Category: Commentaries

The Wolk Law Firm extends its condolences to the family of basketball great Kobe Bryant and at least one of his children who passed away today in the crash of his Sikorsky S-76 helicopter. The crash occurred in low ceilings and visibility in a hilly area near Calabasas, California.

No flight plan had been filed at least as revealed by currently available information. No flight plan was required for that flight though the weather was challenging with low ceilings and visibility.

Kobe was a Philadelphia sport’s laureate and a graduate of Lower Merion High School in a Philly suburb where Arthur Wolk resides. What is little known is that Kobe spoke a number of languages, was a prolific writer and a real intellectual.

The helicopter was nearly thirty years old and was used frequently between the Camarillo airport and the John Wayne, Orange County Airport near where his daughter was regularly involved in basketball practice.

It is unknown just what terrain avoidance equipment was on board nor what the age or condition of the engines and rotor system were. Investigation may reveal a mechanical problem that caused or contributed to the crash. Communications between the pilot and air traffic control should reveal if there was a reported mechanical problem that preceded the crash.

Helicopters are permitted to fly well below the altitudes that fixed wing aircraft fly and often fly beneath the clouds at low level. Hopefully the pilot made use of air traffic control services during the short flight.

Examination of the wreckage should quickly reveal if there was a mechanical cause but regardless, the country has lost an icon that will be sorely missed along with the others who perished with him.

It’s a really sad day today for the Bryant family and for those who grew up admiring Kobe’s great achievements.

Arthur Alan Wolk

January 26th 2020

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The FAA’s misinformation about airframe icing is like getting a gift of ice in the wintertime. For years we pilots have been taught that airframe icing can be expected when the outside air temperature is within 10 degrees F. of freezing and we are flying in visible moisture.

The same information is made applicable to jets but in most instances airliners have no anti-ice or deice over their tail surfaces, just heated leading edges of their wings and engine inlets.

Now there is a dearth of information out there of just what a manufacturer has to show the FAA to get Known Icing Certification and for good reason. If you knew, you would ground your airplane in icing conditions.

I was flying my Eclipse Jet out of Pueblo Co. yesterday and into the clouds that I had just vacated on my arrival. Even though the layers on approach were one layer at FL 200 (twenty thousand feet) and another at 12,000 feet there was no ice accumulated.

As I climbed toward the front range of the Rockies on my departure Westbound and looked at those nasty looking clouds over the mountains I remembered the words Orographic Cooling from my distant past and several cases I handled where jets were quickly overcome with ice in the mountains.

Orographic Cooling occurs when the winds are thrust up the windward side of the mountains and as they travel ever faster into the higher elevations the droplets of water that are clouds become supercooled.

If you have the misfortune to fly through some of it, even though there is no warm front overriding a cool surface, and no SLD (supercooled liquid droplets associated with warm rain dropping into cold air below and forming water that forms ice on contact) , you will accumulate ice, usually rime ice, at temperatures and at flight levels you never dreamed of.

So, as a precaution I turned on the engine inlet heat and waited. Well it didn’t take long for the airframe ice to start accumulating. Milky white rime ice on the leading edges of the wings began as the outside air temperature exceeded minus 12 degrees C! The ice continued to accumulate, though the deicing boots shed it quickly and effectively, through FL 240 and OAT of minus 20 degrees C. For those who speak only F, the ice started at 10 degrees F. and ended at about minus ten degrees F., well below any temperature the FAA has told us to expect airframe icing.

Lessons learned?

  1. Everything we have been told about airframe icing is useless when flying in, over or near mountains.
  2. Airframe icing can occur at temperatures well below the “within ten degrees of 32 degrees F”.
  3. Airframe icing can continue all the way up into the flight levels.

Now many will read this and say that all it means is that flying in the mountains is different than non-mountain flying. That might be true but only two of the jet icing  accidents I have handled occurred in the mountains and all of the turboprop icing accidents I have handled were in the flatlands.

Arthur Alan Wolk

January 22, 2020

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Don’t quickly accuse the pilot in the Louisiana Cheyenne crash, it was likely not his fault. The Piper Cheyenne II is a very capable airplane when everything is working. It has a good safety record but it’s been out of production forever so it is old. The engines are normally pretty reliable Pratt and Whitney Canada PT-6’s though there are some very troubling flaws especially with the fuel controls.

This unspeakable tragedy that killed so many people is explainable if an experienced aviation litigator examines the crash and gets the facts to develop substance behind the three watchwords of airplane crash investigation. The Man, Machine and the Environment.

The Man is the pilot who apparently had been flying this very airplane for many years. His recent flight experience is unknown but assuming he was current, certainly there should have been nothing about him that figured into the accident.

The Machine is an old Cheyenne and its maintenance history is unknown right now. A very careful examination of that history is vital to understanding what may have impacted the Man’s ability to fly that day.

The Environment was bad, low ceilings and poor visibilities but not beyond the capabilities of an experienced and qualified Man to fly this airplane that day. The problem with low ceilings and visibilities is that when things go wrong, especially on takeoff, it’s difficult or impossible to see where you need to crash land if you have any hope of saving yourself and your passengers.

The propellers will tell some of the story. Badly curled blades indicate engine power. Straight or almost straight blades mean no engine power likely due to an engine failure. Now a PT-6 engine is a free turbine which means there is no physical connection between the propellers and the power section thus the blades are not always easy to read because even when the engine quits they still spin, albeit slower.

Absent a mechanical failure this accident has no explanation. Any good instrument pilot should have been able to make that takeoff without difficulty. But from witness descriptions, the airplane couldn’t climb and was gradually decreasing in altitude until it ran out of airspace and crashed and burned.

That usually means powerplant failure or instrument failure and in those weather conditions each can have fatal results.

Everyone (meaning the NTSB and FAA who will have the help of the manufacturers of the airplane and engine) will rush to blame the pilot but until the facts are known that may be premature.

Hopefully The Wolk Law Firm will be contacted before critical items of evidence are “lost”.

We figure out the Why better than anyone else because we are pilots, we are crash investigators and we are relentless in the search for the cause.

Arthur Alan Wolk

New Year’s Day 2020.

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The  myth about wake turbulence at flight levels debunked. The FAA says that its ok for heavy airplanes to overfly small airplanes while at flight levels and they need not worry about severe turbulence from the wake upsetting the smaller aircraft..

That of course is how the United States adopted RVSM airspace which reduces the altitude clearance between aircraft operating in different directions above 27,000 feet to 1000 feet instead of the old 2000.

So under these new rules an airplane weighing a million pounds can overfly an aircraft weighing just 6000 pounds and according to the FAA no sweat.

Now that was until a Challenger business jet, weighing in at about 60,000 pounds encountered the wake from an Airbus 380 in the Middle East, rolled upside and lots of other ways before the crew could regain control. They landed safely but the airplane was trashed.

So the FAA addressed the problem and now Controllers give pilots a wake turbulence caution as they permit the same passage of million pound aircraft 1000 feet above a 6000 pound airplane. That caution of course is meaningless because what’s the pilot of the little airplane to do start writing his will?

Case in point.

Today I flew my Eclipse Jet for the more than 150th time across our great country. It weights 6000 pounds soaking wet. As I sat there over Missouri at Flight Level 370 contemplating the New Year’s Eve coming, the shadow of a very large aircraft loomed above me. It was a Quantas Boeing 787 that had overtaken me at Flight Level 390. Now I would say the Boeing 787 weighed in at about 600,000 pounds but what’s a few hundred thousand pounds more or less?

When I saw it and did the numbers quickly I asked the controller for a vector to avoid wake turbulence. He graciously gave me a ten degree right turn. That looked good to me.

After my TCAD showed the Aussie about 15 miles ahead of me, I requested a climb to Flight Level 390 in the hope that at that altitude it would be less likely for that to happen again.

As I approached Flight Level 380 and about simultaneous with a “Caution Wake Turbulence “warning from the controller, my airplane began to shake violently like some invisible hand was playing “Jingle Bells” with it as it rolled violently from side to side at least 30 degrees.

I looked at TCAD again in disbelief as the 787 was more than 15 miles away and regained control of my airplane and myself. The Controller and I discussed it as he was also in disbelief exclaiming that the Quantas airplane was 200 knots faster than I was in my climb and 20 miles away when the encounter occurred.

Lessons learned. RVSM safety is a fiction. Wake turbulence is not confined to the FAA’s long standing safe distance behind rules like 7 miles maximum even behind a landing Boeing 757. Dangerous wake turbulence is not confined to landing aircraft with their flaps down.

Dangerous wake turbulence can be experienced even 20 miles behind and 1000 feet below heavy aircraft. Even a vector away can be insufficient as after 15 miles the wake often spreads wide enough to encompass a large area not just the wingspan of the generating aircraft.

Add this one from actual experience. Some weather and wind conditions allow the wake from the larger aircraft to remain at the same altitude for many miles and there may be no safety to fly behind a larger aircraft at the same altitude.

Take my words for this one, today’s real life lesson is one that is important.

Keep an eye on your TCAD or ADS-B to see what kind of aircraft will overtake or fly over you with only a 1000 feet between you. If its big, take a vector and put 20 miles between you and the larger aircraft.

If you decide to climb to the altitude of the airplane that overtook you, wait until it’s at least 25 miles ahead and still fly the vector for the climb. If it’s a super heavy airplane like an Airbus 350, Boeing 787, Boeing 747 or Triple 7 or an Airbus 380, good luck!

I’m happy to be able to write this article tonight because if the 787 had overflown me at 1000 feet I’d likely not be so lucky!

Arthur Alan Wolk

New Year’s Eve 2019

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Why would anyone fly a helicopter into the mountains in bad weather?Seven people dead, three families shattered and another sight-seeing helicopter crash in Hawaii. Now it is understandable that vacationers want to get up close and personal with the majestic features of the Hawaii landscape, it’s beautiful.

Some sight-seeing helicopter operators have a great track record given that they fly thousands of flights a year and most of the time deliver their passengers back safely full of the thrills that such rides afford.

But mountain flying is wicked business in any aircraft. The winds shift rapidly and some downdrafts exceed the capability of a helicopter or airplane to fly out of them.

Flights in Hawaii have another hazard and that is the mist that forms adjacent to and in the rain forests that the mountains provide terrain to protect. Flying in or near that is just blind flying in an area that is difficult on a good day.

This particular day however was a perfect storm because of a storm located over the island. It was accompanied by rain showers, turbulence and uncertain visibility and ceilings.

Now it is certainly possible that a mechanical failure brought down this helicopter and when the NTSB finishes and blames the pilot the real investigative work will begin by the litigators who know what makes helicopters crash.

But as one of those litigators who will no doubt be hired by one of these devastated families and a pilot for decades and many thousands of hours, I have a question.

What operator if safety minded would dispatch a helicopter into these conditions? The weather was bad. If a mechanical failure occurs, there is little or no time for the pilot to react. Often they fly low over hostile terrain and there is no place to make an emergency landing. So why would anyone stack the odds against a safe flight?

It is simply incomprehensible to me that with so many risks attendant to this type of activity in this kind of foreboding terrain and weather any flights were dispatched that day.

Having flown airshows for twelve years, I remember the greatest airshow performer ever, Bob Hoover, saying to me, “Arthur, the crowd doesn’t know whether you are flying 200 feet above the ground or 400 feet. So play it safe make your hard deck 400 feet.”

A sight-seeing flight is only  a success when the helicopter returns safely. Maybe the principle of Bob Hoover’s admonition needs to be applied to this kind of activity. The ride is no less exciting when it’s close but not too close, low but not too low and by all means only in good weather.

This is indeed a sad day for everyone concerned and especially the families who lost their loved ones.

The Wolk Law Firm is always here to help.

Arthur Alan Wolk – 12/29/19

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I lived in the Warbird movement for eleven years before my Panther Jet Fighter crashed due to a fuel control malfunction. I had a full time mechanic, spared no expense on maintenance and sent the fuel control out for overhaul three times. I thought as I recovered for seven months that no one could have spent more or did more for maintenance of this Warbird than I.

I was especially saddened to see the crash of the Collings Foundation B-17 with a terrible loss of life. I knew the founders of that group when they rebuilt the B-24 back in the eighties. They are not an irresponsible crowd but like all Warbird operators they share the same collections of risks.

No one alive, who currently maintains or flies one of these aircraft ever did so in the service. No one alive who currently flies or maintains these aircraft went through a military training program for them.  The engines are old with no new parts being manufactured for decades. Even in service these aircraft needed the resources of a Government to keep them flying. The aircraft and engines were never intended to last this long so intense maintenance and inspections are vital to continued safety.

In spite of all these impediments Warbirds and their pilots have demonstrated a remarkable safety record over the years because for the most part they are dedicated to the preservation of the history of America’s military that these aircraft represent. But the crash of this B-17 carrying paying passengers points up once again the risks attendant to flying old airplanes of any kind whether ex-military or civilian, they break.

Everyone in the Warbird movement mourns the loss of life and the loss of this beautiful airplane and no doubt the FAA and NTSB will be all over the participants proposing new rules regarding maintenance and operations. That has never been and won’t be the answer now. What this crash deserves however is careful scrutiny to make certain the existing rules which have proven effective in keeping the accident record under control were complied with so no accident for the same reason happens again.

Arthur Alan Wolk

October 3, 2019

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Lallo – A Win For The Wolk Law Firm. The Wolk Law Firm is honored to announce it has prevailed in the case of Lallo v. Continental Motors, Inc. A Philadelphia jury awarded 9 million dollars for the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. John Lallo in the crash of their Mooney M20J aircraft.

We proved that the cause of the crash was a defectively designed and built single drive dual magneto that failed causing the Lallo aircraft’s engine to go out of time and lose power.

With delay damages and costs the verdict will ultimately be at least 11 million.

This case was tried for seven weeks this time and 3 ½ months in 2018.

The Wolk Law Firm’s entire staff, lawyers, support staff and consultants all worked day and night to achieve this just result for the four surviving adult Lallo children.

A special thanks to attorneys Cynthia Devers and Mike Miska who spearheaded the effort while they were supported by Cheryl Delisle, Stacy Charles, Victoria Power, Lisa Turowski, Victoria Greco, Ruth McMahon, and Angela Pontano.

What is special about our firm? We never give up, we are never intimidated, we are never overpowered and we are dedicated to our clients’ causes.

Well Done!

Arthur Alan Wolk, Esq.

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Runway incursions still happening. FAA’s Latest Solution More Lights   The problem of runway incursions has been around for as long as there are runways.

But at big airports, especially at night, the problem has been more frequent and more dangerous.

Big airports have radar to tell the tower where airplanes are on the surface and many pilots now have GPS that tells them where they are, but runway incursions still happen.

The FAA’s preferred solution is to throw money at the problem in the hope that it disappears. So the FAA has spent billions changing colors, adding colors, adding lights, changing lights but the problem persists.

Let’s see why.

All taxiways have yellow lines drawn down the centerline. Put your nose wheel on it and your good…well not really.

Some taxiways have green lights imbedded on top of the yellow lines. Follow the green and you are good…well not exactly.

Of course the taxiways are marked on each side by blue lights so stay between the blue lights and you are okay…well no.

 

Then there are the big painted circles that are invisible at night with the runway number painted on them on the taxiway.

 

And there are the flashing red/yellow lights at the end of the taxiway and entrance to the runway.

 

Does that mean stop, caution, both or just another cool set of lights.

Of course the lights for the taxiways are yellow with black letters and for the taxiway you are taxiing on the background is sort of yellow and black with black letters.

 

Now the FAA has been adamant that all pilots be taught to follow ATC instructions. So adamant has the FAA been that instead of using English terms as required by International agreements, they have chosen to alter the language to throw in a little linguistic confusion. Traditionally, that means forever, the FAA said that “Position and Hold” meant enter the runway and stay put until “Cleared for Takeoff.”

Every pilot on the planet knew this term.

But, so everyone could be confused and eons of training and experience thrown to the wind, the FAA had the bright idea of changing the well-worn phrase to “Line Up and Wait.”

Now, if there is no line this phrase makes no sense and there could be no line because only one aircraft is allowed on the runway at a time. But, we pilots have come to learn it and abide by it, senselessness or not.  Which brings me to the latest goofy FAA expenditure called “Runway Status Lighting Systems.”

The FAA had the bright idea, bright red in fact, to add a new set of lights to the confusing array of lighting and painting color symbiology.

On the taxiways adjacent to the active runway are red lights imbedded into the tarmac. If you are cleared onto the runway and the lights are red, you are to disregard your ATC clearance stay put and ask what’s up.

Once you are cleared to Line Up and Wait, assuming the red lights are off or you have been instructed by ATC to disregard them, after you line up or are cleared for takeoff there are another set of imbedded lights on each side of the Runway Centerline. If they are lit you are not to takeoff, but to ask ATC whether it really means cleared for takeoff or something else. Meanwhile, other aircraft that may be landing on the same runway will no doubt be going around until this is all sorted out. If you are making an intersection takeoff, you will never see either set of status lights so you are doomed.

 

Well done once again FAA. You have spent tens of millions of dollars to add more confusion to the process, guaranteed more runway incursions, and worse now told pilots to disregard ATC instructions when these lights are lit, which they may or may not see.

Over and Lights Out!

Arthur Alan Wolk

5/30/19

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It seems incomprehensible that American Airlines and Southwest Airlines can refuse to ground their B-737 Max 8’s while the rest of the world grounds theirs in the face of two accidents that have claimed the lives of nearly 350 people.

There would not be enough money in the world to pay the punitive damages claims that either airline would have to pay in the event one of their Max 8’s dived into the ground because the MCAS failed again.

Today Boeing announced a software fix that reduced the control authority of the MCAS so the elevators would still be able to allow the crew to pull out of a dive induced by runaway stabilizer trim and added a comparator so if either Angle of Attack sensor disagreed, the system wouldn’t work. This is a good first step but the airplane should never have been certified by the FAA without those features in place. It has a single point failure, one sensor operated the system at a time, and this emergency system alone created a worse emergency.

Do American and Southwest’s Max 8’s already have the software or some version of it that the International carriers do not have? If so the culpability of Boeing would be worse, if that’s possible, but the FAA would also have to be complicit which would explain why it rushed to defend Boeing and the decision of American and Southwest not to ground their fleets. If American and Southwest have a revised MCAS and they remain silent about it, they are morally corrupt for remaining silent.

There is no evidence that the U.S. carriers’ aircraft are any different than those sold overseas but something is driving this arrogance in the face of certain disaster.

Arthur Alan Wolk

3/12/19

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Boeing has announced and the FAA has agreed to software changes to the MCAS system, the anti-stall system suspected in causing 300 deaths in the last 4 months on the Boeing 737 Max 8.

The Boeing announcement says the enhancements include updates to “the MCAS flight control law, pilot displays, operation manuals and crew training. The enhanced flight control law incorporates angle of attack (AOA) inputs, limits stabilizer trim commands in response to an erroneous angle of attack reading and provides a limit to the stabilizer command in order to retain elevator authority.”

Yet just yesterday the FAA issued a certification of continued airworthiness for the 737 Max 8 claiming to the world that in spite of the two recent accidents, the airplane is just fine. That’s funny, an Airworthiness Directive addresses safety of flight issues and one is already issued on an emergency basis and the software enhancements are included in the second to be issued in April. Other changes are likely to be mandated as well.

So the B-737 Max 8 is so safe that over 300 people are dead and it needs to be changed to keep flying yet the FAA hasn’t grounded it until the “enhancements” are introduced.

Other U.S. carriers who operate the Max refuse to take it out of service. What will the FAA say when another one goes down, this time in the U.S., “Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims’ families.”?

This is politics as usual and the FAA is covering up its embarrassment for having certified an airplane with an emergency system that causes its own emergency. The 737 Max 8 will one day be fixed just like the 737 rudder was after six accidents years ago, but right now until it’s fixed it should remain on the ground.

The FAA is useless!

Arthur Alan Wolk

3/12/19

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