Arrogance at the FAA

Leaked FAA memo sheds light on Superstition Mountains plane crash

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Updated: Wednesday, 09 May 2012, 9:49 PM MST Published : Wednesday, 09 May 2012, 9:43 PM MST Fox 10 News

APACHE JUNCTION, Ariz. – The night before thanksgiving, while most families were preparing to spend the holiday together, a plane crashed into the Superstition Mountains in the east valley. All on board were killed, including these 3 young children and their father.

The official cause of the crash won’t be known for months, but tonight we have new troubling information that raises the question — did this have to happen? Did they have to die?

We’ve learned FAA safety investigators believe the air space around the Superstition Mountains may have contributed to this deadly crash.

A problem they have known about for years.

The FAA’s findings have never been made public until now. Something else that’s never been made public until now — haunting images of those kids just before their flight.

These are the final images taken of the Perry kids arriving at Falcon Field on the evening of November 23, 2011.

Pictures show Logan, 8, Luke, 6, followed by their 9-year-old sister Morgan, enter the executive terminal. Its 6 o’clock. In 30 minutes they will all be gone.

They wait to meet their father Shawn who’s flying in from Safford.

As the plane arrives, it’s already dark. They plan to fly back to Safford to spend thanksgiving with dad.

Dad climbs in back with the kids. Russell Hardy takes the left pilot seat. Joseph Hardwick, a mechanic, takes the right seat.

The plane taxis out to the runway. The Rockwell 690 takes off from runway 4R, heading northeast.

90 seconds later, it’s approved for a right turn, bound for Safford.

Travelling at 200 miles an hour, the plane is at 45-hundred feet.

For the next 3 minutes — it flies straight and level.

No signs of any trouble as it plows directly into Ship Rock.

911 callers: “A plane just crashed into the Superstition Mountains… and it just kind of flew right into the fricken mountain… it looked like they didn’t know Ship Rock was there!”

When the NTSB issues its final report on the crash, pilot error will almost certainly be the primary cause. Loss of “situational awareness,” meaning the pilot simply lost track of where he was.

And you can see how easily it could happen. He was flying visual flight rules, and he did not file a flight plan. And the majestic superstitions on a moonless night would simply vanish in the distance. He didn’t see the mountain until it was too late.

“0k now we’re up here in the crevice where it looks like the plane maybe first hit.”

Karen Perry lost her entire family in the crash. Since that day, she has searched for answers, sometimes finding them here on the mountain.

“Obviously some kind soul that came left a memorial here and left some toys and pictures,” she says.

The mountain makes her feel closer to her children. She sees it everyday. It’s right outside her front door.

“I walked away without my children’s bodies without any clear evidence they were actually gone,” says Perry. “It’s a comfort to at least know what happened to them.”

But there’s one question that continues to haunt her. Did something else contribute to this crash? Something that could have prevented the terrible loss of life?

The answer may lie here: in this internal memo from the FAA obtained by FOX 10 news.

A document the agency did not want you to see.

In it, three top investigators from the FAA’s Scottsdale office conclude the airspace design in the area of the crash is insufficient. In it, the FAA writes: “The airspace design with regard to obstacle (terrain) clearance is not sufficient to ensure a margin of safety necessary to preclude the possibility of an accident similar to the one that occurred on November 23, 2011.”

In other words, the airspace design near the Superstitions is putting pilots at risk — and future accidents could happen if it’s not fixed.

“It was an accident that I feel badly making the statement it was going to happen and it had to happen, it’s something that should not have happened,” says Jim Timm, executive director of the Arizona Pilots Association.

For years he warned the FAA the airspace around the Superstitions is dangerous.

The FAA ignored him and denied there was a problem. Now its own investigators admit Jim Timm was right all along.

“Its pretty shocking these inspectors what they’ve written here is verbatim what I’ve been saying in meetings and written in memos.”

Back in 2006, Timm’s group warned, “Between the Superstition Mountains to the east and Falcon Field to the west, there is literally nowhere for GA (general aviation) pilots to (go).”

Here’s the problem.

Passenger jets flying into Sky Harbor from the east occupy class B airspace — a slice of sky that begins at 5 thousand feet.

Private planes flying visual flight are forbidden from entering class B. They must stay below 5-thousand feet.

Had the aircraft been at 5,500 feet everybody would be home and happy. The Superstitions rise above that.

Without special clearance, private planes are not allowed to fly over the mountains, so they’re forced to dodge them

It limits a pilot’s options.


why Jim Timm, back in 2006, fought to raise class B airspace to 7-thousand feet, giving commercial aircraft an easy approach into sky harbor, while also giving private pilots plenty of room to clear the mountains.

Had the FAA listened — the November crash might never have happened.

The plane impacted at 46-hundred feet, consistent with a pilot trying to stay beneath class B airspace.

But there’s something else in this secret memo that’s equally troubling.

It says air traffic controllers in the phoenix area routinely refuse to assist private pilots.

It was cited as a contributing cause of a deadly crash in the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale in 2003.

A plane impacted 100 feet from the top of the mountain — killing a husband and wife on board.

The FAA memo states: “The airman requested flight following… Prior to departure. The airman was denied this service due to a long standing policy with PHX Tracon and all surrounding satellite airports.”

It goes on to say: “while terrain avoidance is ultimately the (pilots’) responsibility, had the airman been provided the service he requested, it is this inspectors opinion this accident could have been avoided.”

The pilot in the November crash never asked for help from the tower.

“The culture is in place has evolved that people simply don’t ask for permission to enter the bravo airspace because they feel they’re going to be denied. Don’t ask cause you’re not going to get it.” Sources tell fox 10 controllers don’t want the additional work load.

Yet the FAA memo points out: “…other areas around the USA provide this service to pilots, including the very busy LAX (Los Angeles) area.”

Timm says bottom line, these accidents shouldn’t have happened. And the FAA knew better.

“When I heard what happened my heart sunk really I thought, we don’t need this kind of regulation written in blood.”

Karen Perry’s search for answers brought her to a scrap yard in Phoenix. The remains of the plane piled up and bagged, as tangled and disjointed as her life since the crash.

Everything she loved was lost in this wreckage. And now she’s left to put the pieces back together.

“I need to see it for some of it to sink in to me,” she says.

She hopes the FAA will make changes before there’s another tragedy.

“It’s painful. Because the general aviation flying public was aware, the FAA was aware and yet they did it anyway. I want to see changes that need to be made as a result of this accident, I’m hoping that they’re made. I’m hoping that they’ll do the right thing.”

The 3 FAA investigators in this memo recommend the airspace be redesigned.

They also call for a national probe into why air controllers in the Phoenix area are denying service to pilots.

The FAA refused to allow anyone to talk with us on camera. They did issue this statement that reads in part: “We cannot comment on any pending investigation… the FAA will evaluate the submission from the regional safety inspectors.”

We will of course keep on top of this story.


What Would Steve Canyon Say?

When I was in pilot training in the early seventies, we all thought we were Steve Canyon, pilot and adventurer, see

All the new Lieutenants wanted to be the swaggering pilot who saves the bright and beautiful girl, while sounding so cool on the radio. Perhaps we take the swaggering a bit too far when we key the mike? Here’s a little self evaluation quiz for ‘ya:

1. Do you say, “With you” when switching to a new controller? This wastes airtime and most controllers don’t like it. I think there’s a 12 step program to help you break this habit.


2. Do you say, “Roger”? Responding with “Roger” doesn’t make you sound cool, any more than wearing an adult diaper makes me an astronaut. “Roger” is not a readback and it invariably results in an ATC correction. It wastes valuable frequency time.

3. Are you the guy who thinks he’s an airline Captain, and starts every transmission with “ah…” or “and…”? Forget about waterboarding. If we want results from interrogation, just make prisoners listen to this stuff on the radio.

4. Are you a TMI pilot (too much information)? At a non-towered airport, nobody needs to know that you’re taxiing from the ramp to taxiway Alpha. Ask yourself, “How will this next radio call affect other pilots?” If it won’t, zip it!

5. Do you use local landmarks for position reports? “Mayberry traffic, Mooney 32 Victor is over the red barn for downwind.” The transient pilots are thinking, “Huh?” Position reports should be based on distance and direction from the airport. The airport aliens will thank you.

6. Do you use IFR fixes at a non-towered airport? “Slim Pickins traffic, Mooney Acclaim 7 Kilo Whiskey is over PAYED on the RNAV approach.” Wonderful, you’re a handsome and or beautiful Instrument pilot. We get it. Base your reports on the runway and distance so the little people can understand you.

7. Do you modify the phonetic alphabet? SoCal approach, Mooney 6 Sugar Pop at 7,000.” Don’t make up cute stuff. What’s next, Xylophone for X-ray? Un-cool, Skippy!

8. Do you ask others what you should do when you get there?“Any traffic in the area please advise.” This is not a capital offense, but dang close. Just monitor CTAF on #2 and get an idea of what’s going on.

The Flight Review

Your Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) must be qualified in your airplane’s Category and Class.

In case you’ve forgotten, here’s a quick review of Category and Class:

If you’re an Airplane, SEL pilot –  your CFI must have currency in an airplane SEL – that’s it. He or she doesn’t need to have five hours of PIC flight time in your make or model of aircraft.

That being said, you may want to seek out a CFI with experience in your Make and Model  Some Aircraft Safety Foundations have Pilot Programs. Your instructor would have lots of experience in your Make and Model, and it should be time and money well spent.

Your CFI doesn’t need a current FAA Medical if you can be the Pilot In Command (PIC). You can be the PIC if you have an unexpired flight review and have current medical.

What to Expect from the Oral and the Flight

The flight review does not involve a written examination. It requires a minimum of:

  • A one hour oral, including a review of flight rules found in FAR Part 91.
  • A one hour flight.

If you are a “15 – 20 hours per year pilot”, or you haven’t flown for a long time, expect a longer oral and flight.

The Oral

To prepare for the oral, you can study a current FAR/AIM, Sectional and your POH.

You can simply read my “Flight Review Study Guide”, available at . You would be wise to also review your POH.

In addition, you might consider completing the “Flight Review Prep Guide” course available at . Bring a copy of the completion certificate to the flight review.

Your CFI may give you a short (no more than 50 nm) cross-country flight plan assignment to an unfamiliar airport. Be sure to consider runway lengths, weather, fuel requirements, terrain, NOTAMs, TRFs, etc. Your CFI could require a manual flight plan, or allow you to prepare using an online planner.

The Flight

Your CFI could ask questions to determine your experience and the type of flying that you normally do, and then determine which maneuvers you’ll perform. Remember that it’s proficiency-based, and the CFI has discretion on how much time and how much instruction is needed to ensure that you are proficient. You must demonstrate that you can safely exercise the privileges of your certificate.

As you fly selected maneuvers, you’ll be evaluated on your basic stick and rudder proficiency. If asked to fly a short cross-country, that’s a good place to sample your knowledge of aircraft systems, and your ability to make good decisions when faced with unusual circumstances, (Aeronautical Decision Making and Risk Management). For instance, you may be asked to consider a mechanical problem or an unexpected weather scenario, which will require a diversion to another airfield.

Use all your tools and resources, including the “Nearest” and “Direct to” functions on your GPS. For more information, see  

Logging Flight Time

You don’t need a current medical to have an annual review, but if your medical has expired, you’ll log the Flight Review time as “dual”. Once you get a medical, you can then fly as PIC.

If you have a current medical, then log the time as PIC.

How Much Should You Train?

There are flight departments of all sizes, from the largest airline, to the company that has one plane to run errands. No matter the size, they all want their pilots to be proficient and highly trained. Every passenger expects their pilot to be full of knowledge, well trained, proficient, and competent.

Is a Flight Review with a CFI every two years working for you? Perhaps that depends on how much you fly, and how much you feel challenged as an aviator. If you feel that you would like more training, please go to and registerfor the Wings program. This basically requires a short flight with your CFI every four months and completing an approved course every four months. Courses take about an hour. Some are free and some require a course purchase.

ADS-B – What Should You Know

The Basics                  Return to

Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) is an acronym for:

  • Automatic
  • Dependent
  • Surveillance
  • Broadcast

Through ADS-B, ATC will, in the near future, track aircraft. It’s part of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), which will replace our aging radar system with a satellite-based system. NextGen is more concerned with the increasingly congested flight levels and delays at major hubs, but GA must still participate. GPS and NextGen technology will be used to shorten routes, save time and fuel, reduce traffic delays, increase capacity, and permit controllers to monitor and manage aircraft with greater safety margins. Planes will be able to fly closer together, take more direct routes and avoid delays caused by airport “stacking” as planes wait for an open runway.

NextGen will be implemented across the United States in stages between 2012 and 2025. With that in mind, the United States will require the majority of aircraft operating within its airspace to be equipped with some form of ADS-B “Out” capability by January 1, 2020. The rule does not mandate ADS-B “In” capability. I’ll discuss more about ADS-B – “Out” and “In” later.

What? No RADARs? ADS-B will not be replacing radars anytime soon. The FAA plans to keep all long-range radars, but decommission many of the terminal short range radars at smaller airports after the 2020 ADS-B mandate goes into effect. We’ll still need radar:

  • As a backup in case of GPS failure, and
  • For national security.

The ADS-B rule, like current transponder operating requirements, requires operators to have, at a minimum, ADS-B Out avionics installed and operating in order to fly their aircraft almost everywhere but in Class G airspace.

What is the difference between ADS-B In and Out?

ADS-B “Out” systems are “Report Only”. They automatically broadcast an aircraft’s GPS position to ATC about every second. The 2020 mandate is for ADS-B “Out”.

ADS-B “In” systems not only broadcast/report an aircraft’s GPS position, but they also receive broadcasts from:

  • Other aircraft, and
  • FAA ground stations. These FAA broadcasts include:
    • Traffic information from other aircraft – Traffic Information Services – Broadcast (TIS-B)
    • Weather and NOTAM information. Flight Information Services – Broadcast (FIS-B)

The data received with an ADS-B “In” system is dependent on the ADS-B link and the capabilities of the receiver.

Equipment Required

To participate in ADS-B, you’ll need a GPS, so ATC can read your position, vector, altitude and speed. Portable GPS units don’t qualify. The GPS must be panel mounted, and the USA has mandated that the GPS have WAAS-like capability, such as the Garmin GNS 430W (shown here) or the GNS 530W. There are also newer Garmin market entries like the GTN 650, costing about $11,500 + installation, and the larger GTN 750, starting at about $17,000 + installation. Both are WAAS capable.

ADS-B option 1: Install a 1090 MHz “extended squitter” (ES) transponder. “Squitter” is not a word I would have imagined to have entered my aviation vocabulary. Yet there it is, with all the distasteful images. The Garmin GTX 330 transponder with Mode S fits the bill. It’s designed for ADS-B. The GTX 330 costs about $3,500 + installation.

The 1090ES is ADS-B “Out and somewhat In” capable. That is, it will receive traffic information (TIS-B)– but it will not receive weather information ( FIS-B).

The 1090 MHz ES link data allows you to broadcast the data from the GPS source to both ground stations and other aircraft in your vicinity.

If your aircraft flies outside the USA or flies at or above FL 180 (18,000 feet MSL), the FAA will require you to use the 1090 MHz ES link (Mode S transponder).

Aircraft and pilots that fly below FL 180 or remain in the USA, can use either option 1 (the 1090 MHz ES) or they can –

Choose option 2 – UAT: Install a dedicated 978 MHz Universal Access Transceiver (UAT). With a compatible UAT, you will be able to participate in ADS-B In. That’s because the transceiver will also receive data linked weather (FIS-B) and traffic display (TIS-B) – displaying the data on your GPS’ screen. The Mode S just doesn’t have the bandwidth for FIS-B  – too busy squitting about, I suppose.

If you choose the UAT option, NavWorx produces the ADS600-B, a remote mounted UAT that transmits ADS-B OUT information, and receives ADS-B IN information. This will cost about $2,500 + installation.

ADS-B Coverage as of Feb 27, 2012

NOT A 2020 ADS-B REPLACEMENT: A new product, aiming to take advantage of the ADS-B data linked weather (FIS-B) is the Stratus. It’s a lightweight, low-profile, battery powered (up to eight hours on a charge), ADS-B/GPS receiver that connects to the iPad completely wirelessly and provides extremely accurate GPS position in addition to ADS-B weather. It’s essentially a Wi-Fi hotspot for your iPad and ForeFlight. The Status costs about $800, with NO monthly fees. Flying Magazine reviews the Stratus at

NOT A 2020 ADS-B REPLACEMENT: A newcomer to the Wi-Fi/ADS-B weather market is the Sagetech Clarity ADS-B Receiver. It’s not on the market yet, but seeks to offer an alternative to the Stratus. Its features are discussed at

Projected ADS-B Coverage by the end of 2013

Puerto Rico, Guam and Hawaii will be fully covered in 2013.

Note the lack of coverage below FL180 in parts of Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, and Oregon.

The Bottom Line

For the Class B, C and E phobic, you’re in luck, there’s always uncontrolled airspace – Class G. There are a few Class G airspace areas, shown below in tan, mostly in the west. I can’t envision anyone having a great time flying in a little Class G patch.

GA aircraft don’t need to be ADS-B compliant until January 1, 2020. As we come closer to that date, we might start thinking about saving for the trip to the Avionics shop. I am not advocating that everyone run out and install the equipment this year, but I don’t recommend that you wait until December, 2019.  Can you imagine your Avionics Shop’s workload/backlog then? In the meantime, anyone who needs to replace a transponder would be a bit silly to choose anything but a Mode S capable unit, like the Garmin GTX 330.

If you decide to take advantage of ADS-B weather broadcasts now and purchase a Stratus or Clarity, take a look at the coverage map. If you fly in the areas currently without ADS-B coverage, you’ll find yourself a bit broken hearted. However, next year, the coverage will have improved significantly.  You can track NextGen and ADS-B progress at (requires Flash).