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"Pilot: Flying near mountains requires 'good deal of skill'"



Friday, March 26, 2004 

Pilot: Flying near mountains requires 'good deal of skill' 
By M.K. Guetersloh 
The Bloomington (IL) Pantagraph


BLOOMINGTON -- Turbulence, strong winds, ice and clouds -- conditions
referred to as "the Confederate resistance" -- often make flying in the
Appalachian Mountains a challenge for pilots, especially at night, said
one local flier.

Aviation officials are looking for the reason why a private plane
carrying six people from McLean County crashed on Little Black Mountain
in eastern Kentucky, killing pilot Curt Piercy of Normal and his five
passengers. The plane took off Sunday evening from South Carolina, and
the wreckage was found Wednesday.

"It's very possible for a (visual flight rated) pilot to fly through the
mountains at night and there is no reason he shouldn't, but it does
require the pilot to use a good deal of skill," pilot Ed Dorner said,
referring to the rating Piercy had.

The first challenge is terrain.

It's "unlike Central Illinois, where you can get up to around 1,000 feet
and not have to watch for anything but a few of the tall TV towers,"
said Dorner, secretary of the Crosswinds Flying Club, which owned the
plane that crashed. "For mountain flying or going over high ground, you
have to make sure you are aware of the altitude of the highest
obstruction and then fly well above it."

Masses of air moving up the sides of mountains create waves of
turbulence, Dorner said. The best way to avoid it is to fly about 2,000
feet above the highest point along the flight path, Dorner said. The
Federal Aviation Administration typically recommends flying 500 feet
above the highest expected point.

Flying high enough keeps the plane out of the worst of the turbulence.

"Because of the lifting -- if you are flying low enough -- you can find
turbulence like that in any rocky terrain or even coming over the hills
in the Ozarks," Dorner said.

That air movement around and through the Appalachians and other mountain
ranges also can brings certain types of clouds, strong winds and
moisture that can obscure visibility. That moisture also can ice up a
plane, he said.

Often the pilot must rely on the plane's instruments in those cases.
Pilots rated for visual flight conditions are required to receive some
instrument flight training to help prepare them for unexpected weather
conditions that cause poor visibility.

Ice can slow down the plane. If the ice gets heavy enough, it can cause
structural damage to the airplane, Dorner said.

Like most single-engine private planes, Crosswinds' Saratoga was not
equipped to be flown in icing conditions. If the forecast indicates icy
conditions, pilots are not allowed to fly in those areas unless their
planes are equipped with deicing gear.

"An airframe can pick up ice so very fast in conditions like that,"
Dorner said. "The Appalachians tend to produce a lot of (instrument
flight conditions) and icing ... (creating conditions) often referred to
as the Confederate resistance."

FAA officials previously said Piercy, a visual flight rated pilot, was
flying under visual flight conditions. Piercy also met the FAA
requirements that allowed him to fly at night.

The problems of weather and turbulence can be compounded at night,
Dorner said.

The lack of visual references and the turbulence could cause a pilot to
suffer from spatial disorientation, he said. Disoriented pilots cannot
tell if the airplane is turning and must rely on the airplane's
instruments.

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