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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Two crashes within a few short months of each other, hundreds dead, experienced crews aboard each and a known absent control redundancy? This airplane needs another look by embarrassed regulators.

The Boeing 737 MAX is a further lengthened version of the most popular airliner ever conceived, the 737. But the differences in the MAX are more than just size. The MAX is so stretched that a control intervention system, The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, was included that figured into the crash of the LIONAIR JT 610 crash in Indonesia. In that crash, an angle of attack sensor malfunction was implicated as well as a failure by Boeing to provide adequate differences training materials (documents to advise flight crews how operating the MAX differs from other 737s).

While LIONAIR maintenance and pilot error was charged by Boeing, as it always does after an accident, it turns out that normal emergency techniques for this control system malfunction do not work.

It appears now that absent proof that foul play or a different mechanical malfunction brought this airplane down, this Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX accident must be a trigger for a Special Airworthiness Review to see if the regulations for certification were not given short shrift.

For example, the Federal Aviation Regulations require control system redundancy so no single failure can cause a crash. In the new MAX design, there are two angle of attack sensors but only one supplies the needed critical information to the flight control computer at any one time. That may be a violation of the redundancy requirement and both systems operating properly with a comparator of the health of the two should have been required.

But there appears to be an ugly side to this aircraft. The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System in the MAX pitches the nose down when the a system senses an angle of attack higher than required for normal flight or one that would result in an aerodynamic stall. Since the system is a required control system for dispatch, by making only one angle of attack sensor required and indeed used at a time, Boeing hedged on the likely failure of two AOA’s at the same time and got it certified.

Now the FAA, the agency that certified the aircraft will fall all over itself to deny that the MAX doesn’t meet the regulations but it said the same thing when three B-737s crashed from a rudder control problem that the FAA denied existed. More than 600 people lost their lives while the FAA defended its actions and stood in Boeing’s shadow until the NTSB reluctantly and due in part to the work of Arthur Alan Wolk required a reliably redundant rudder control system.

Until the cause of this latest crash is determined, the MAX should be grounded and a bottom up review made to see how this new band aid system fails, how its failure can be annunciated to the flight crew and how it can be stopped once it runs away.

It is no coincidence that both aircraft crews lost control close to the ground and unless something else is quickly identified as the cause, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System must be a suspect. Something about the MAX’s design required this unheard of mechanical intervention in the normal control of the Boeing 737, literally taking control away from the crew so the airplane doesn’t crash. The fact that it is known that this supposedly lifesaving system may itself cause a crash makes a careful re-examination of it appropriate before 600 people are lost instead of the more than 300 dead already.

Arthur Alan Wolk 3/10/2019

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No lawyer in the world has as much experience with the Boeing 737 MAX control system malfunctions as Arthur Alan Wolk of The Wolk Law Firm.

The crash of Lion Air Flight JT610 is beyond a tragedy for the 189 souls aboard. It is a disgrace.

The Boeing 737 MAX is equipped with a flight control system designed to prevent the crew from accidentally stalling the airplane. It’s called the “Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System,” and, in this instance, stall means aerodynamic stall or the airplane quits flying not engine failure.

The incidence of airliner crews accidentally stalling their airplanes is almost non-existent except when in the unlikely event the flight control system malfunctions and misleads the flight deck crew into mishandling the emergency. This occurred over the Atlantic during an Air France Flight to Paris from Buenos Aires some years ago. All aboard were killed so every aircraft manufacturer was on notice that the systems were getting too complex and confusing even for experienced flight crews to master.

Boeing airplanes have traditionally avoided the use of computer interventions which take control of the aircraft away from the flight deck crew and the Boeing 737 MAX is the first time Boeing has departed from that control system design philosophy in the Boeing 737 type.

The MAX system literally uses two Angle of Attack sensors which feeds information to a horizontal stabilizer trim system that will force the nose of the aircraft down if the angle of attack (the angle between a line down the middle of the fuselage and the air it is flying through) gets too steep. This system inexplicably uses only one of the two angle of attack sensors so it has a built-in single point failure in the event that the one it is using fails. The computer senses that at that angle even if incorrectly measured due to a malfunctioning angle of attack sensor, the airplane is approaching or will approach stall and trims the stabilizer nose down to prevent the aircraft from stalling.

The problem is that the system won’t allow the crew to disable it in a timely way if at all and it will take control away from the crew all the way into the ground or ocean. In fact, since the system only works when the airplane is in manual flaps up condition, lowering the flaps would have disabled it … but nobody in the cockpit knew that because Boeing didn’t tell them.

In the instance of the Boeing 737 MAX, there was nothing in the FAA-approved flight manual to advise the crew of this anomaly or how to deal with it and nothing in the differences training (the training of flight deck crews in one type of B-737 to know what’s new or different about the MAX) to cover it. Therefore the Lion Air crew was stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place trying to figure out what was wrong and what to do about it.

There is no question that Boeing knew about the issue and the potential failure mode because it designed and built the system. It was obligated to create a Failure Modes and Effects Analysis so the various potential failures could be addressed. It also knew it had a responsibility under the Federal Aviation Regulations to design the system so it could be flown by pilots of ordinary piloting skills, without the use of excessive strength and the system must be able to be overridden by the crew using ordinary-strength and easily disabled if it malfunctions.

Boeing was required to supply the FAA with a Flight Manual, that only the FAA can approve, which gives the crew all the necessary information to deal with emergencies and abnormal conditions and under no circumstances is one emergency allowed to create an even wors emergency. Clearly, the FAA didn’t read it, didn’t understand it, didn’t flight test it and just rubber-stamped it.

This Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System was malfunctioning on four flights before the accident flight. The flight deck crews reported the malfunctions and Lion Air maintenance people claiming they used the manuals that Boeing supplied, troubleshot the squawk, and claim they fixed the system as instructed. The problem is that this malfunction could not be effectively troubleshot on the ground as the angle of attack sensors typically fail in the air. That’s why each succeeding flight deck crew had the problem again. In addition, the system cannot be effectively troubleshot by the methods the maintenance personnel was given in continuing airworthiness manuals that Boeing was required under the Federal Aviation Regulations to provide with all means necessary to maintain the aircraft safe for flight.

Many other types of jet aircraft have a single switch that will allow the crew to disconnect the entire trim system. But because this was a stall protection system, often the means to disable it is more complicated so the protection is not lost. Clearly the crew of Lion Air JT610 was unable to disconnect or disable the system and the nose was pitched down in ever-increasing amounts such that even tugging as hard as they could the crew could not overcome the dive to eventual oblivion. The very fact that the crew could not disable or override the system makes the system itself a violation of the same Federal Aviation Regulations.

Arthur Alan Wolk litigated the Boeing 737 MAX rudder malfunction accidents, United Flight 525 in Colorado Springs, Co. and USAir Flight 427 in Aliquippa Pa., for nine years successfully settling the cases of the many passengers he represented after proving, in spite of Boeing’s denials, that the rudder control system was flawed. It has since been redesigned. Wolk proved the rudder control system defective not only to the NTSB which was mesmerized for years by Boeing’s denials but to Boeing and its insurers as well.

The rudder in the Boeing 737 MAX also had a single point failure and there was no mention of a procedure to counter it in the FAA-approved Flight Manual. The regulators don’t regulate and the manufacturers do not comply with the regulatory requirements.

No one is more qualified to litigate Lion Air JT 610 than Arthur Alan Wolk and The Wolk Law Firm. Arthur Alan Wolk can be reached at the office 215-545-4220 or on his cell 610-733-4220.

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