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Your assignment: Safety Officer. by Linda "Slim" Torrens

posted Jan 25, 2019, 9:21 PM by Maria Neboschick   [ updated Feb 2, 2019, 10:29 AM ]

        The snow is still on the ground here in Colorado, but it's already time to start thinking about this year's Mooney Caravan flying and formation training events.  Our first serious training event of 2019 is next weekend, with many more opportunities to follow:  
Jan 31-Feb 4 Yuma, AZ
Feb 22-24 B2O Phoenix, AZ
Mar 16-17 B2O McClellan, CA
Apr 25-28 B2O McClellan, CA
Mar 29-31 B2O Lake City, FL
Apr 5-7 San Marcos, TX
May 2-5 B2O St Joseph, MO
May 3-5 Newton, KS
May 17-19 B2O Dennison, TX
May 31-Jun 2 Bemidji, MN
Jun TBD Chino, CA
Jun 14-16 Hickory, NC
Jun 20-23 B2O Bremerton, WA
*Check the Mooney Caravan Training page for training details.

        As our organization grows (did you notice two new patches -- Northern Lights and Pacific/Mountain squadrons have been added– on our Mooney Caravan website?), it is incumbent upon all of us to ensure that every flight training event is safely accomplished.  Safety cannot just be the event director's job, because that person is, after all, riddled with details...from the hotel to the briefings, to the flight assignments, to the transportation. As they say in many successful organizations: "Everyone is a safety officer." Everyone has an obligation to look out for themselves AND others as we participate in this high-risk activity of formation flight.

        Formation flight doesn't have to be dangerous. Airplanes have been successfully flown in close proximity since the dawn of flight. In fact, during WWII, pilots who were barely past their teen years were sent to fly in massive formations with only a few hundred hours under their belts. The way to overcome the inherent dangers of formation flight is by knowing our stuff, briefing the heck out of each flight so we know WHAT to expect and WHAT to do if something goes wrong, and speaking up if something makes us uncomfortable. Even the least experienced formation pilot should speak up if feeling a bit unsure of a maneuver, or a briefing item, or even a taxi plan.  This is particularly important since leaders have a tendency to get stuck in the rut of ‘this is the way we planned it’ and ‘this is the way it's been done before’. Having a question pop up from formation members often results in additional thought about a procedure. All good for all of us.

        I was really proud of our organization last year during the 2018 Mooney Caravan.  The desire to succumb to pressures -- both internal and external -- to get in the air and get it on the ground at Oshkosh were overcome by the fine group that is our  Mooney Caravan leadership.  Although highly frustrating, the extra night in Madison resulted in a safe VFR arrival into Oshkosh -- no bomb bursts or inadvertent IMC for our organization and a bonanza of lessons learned for all.1   As you fly into Madison this year, consider that the Caravan experience is just experience...and whether our group is over-nighting an extra night at Madison or we're on the ground at Oshkosh by Saturday morning, it doesn't matter. It's all part of the great Mooney Caravan experience. 

Watch for Oshkosh Arrival Changes. They are a'Coming!

        This was my third year in the Mooney Caravan and each of the 3 years, there have been frustrating weather impacts at both Madison and Oshkosh. This last year, arrivals across the board were severely impacted by Saturday's weather. You may have read about Fisk arrivals being delayed in holding by 2, 3, or even 4 hours (4 hours!) with a continuous ATC radio stream of: 

"We are oversaturated. Everyone approaching Fisk, turn LEFT and enter a hold. If you are not at Ripon, do not come to Ripon. Enter a hold and come back with a half-mile separation. Suggest diverting if you are low on fuel." 2  

        Thus, last year especially, it was good to arrive at Oshkosh in formation on a track not overlaying the very crowded Fisk arrival groundtrack

My own personal iPad screenshot.  We Mooneys are on the purple line.  And Yes, I am in the blue helicopter (kids…geez!)

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” -- Benjamin Franklin

        EAA has already announced that they do not wish for the 2018 arrival experience to be repeated.3  Changes are a'coming and we as Mooney pilots need to be prepared. This year, EAA is considering adding arrival routes into Oshkosh. So instead of just looking for stray aircraft to the left of our planned Caravan arrival route, there might be aircraft, left, right, over or even straight ahead. Leads, 2s, and 3s all need to be conversant with Oshkosh Fisk procedures because you never know when you might be single-shipping it in for some reason or another. Changes to the arrival notam for other aircraft might impact our operations in unforeseen ways, and so, it would be a great idea for every pilot to seriously consider "what if" scenarios. And that includes knowing how and when to call knock it off, or how to safely break out, and what you will personally do with your flight controls and your mic in the event of an unplanned go around. 
        Last year, the EAA held our parking for us. A fantastic gesture which greatly relieved the stress of the delay at Madison. Possibly this will be the case in 2019 and this might mean that single Mooney aircraft can/will join our designated parking area. This gives us arrival flexibility but also introduces unknowns. I personally think this is a good thing (brings more of us Mooneys together), but could also potentially result in over-saturation of our designated parking area. 

        Some of our squadrons practice formation more than others. Although the requirement is to attend one annual clinic, clearly those that practice only once per year are at a disadvantage when it comes to remembering every formation procedure, monitoring the dual radio frequencies, looking for traffic, all the while trying not to hit Lead.  However, that being said, the pilot that chair-flies will be more proficient than the one that shows up at Madison just ready to get the party started (after attending a single clinic).  So, read the manual, talk formation with your Mooney buddies, and watch YouTube formation videos (google "YouTube Mooney Formation" and you'll find enough material to entertain yourself for hours).  

        As one of our own says about flying to Oshkosh -- formations to Oshkosh are:  “…pilots flying the best general aviation airplane camping together in friendship and camaraderie. The formation arrival is the means of accomplishment….mass formation arrivals bring connection and camaraderie.” 4    

Fly safe and see you in the skies soon!

--Linda "Slim" Torrens

1Interesting info on mass arrivals as well as a link to the Bonanza 2018 experience. Weather Wreaks Havoc on Oshkosh Mass Arrivals: Record-breaking Bonanza group was forced to scatter due to unexpected IFR conditions at Wittman Regional Airport. By Pia Bergqvist July 23, 2018.
2Why it Took us 3 Days to Fly to Oshkosh. By Tori Williams. Posted on August 1, 2018.  and an interesting view of how singles view the Fisk and type club mass arrivals. Welcome to Oshkosh. Just Kidding: Turn Left. Posted by Just Plane Silly. Published on Jul 28, 2018,
3EAA announcement of proposed notam changes. AirVenture Arrival Procedure Changes Recommended to FAA. Published November 15, 2018. 
4Article on mass arrival history.  Flying the Diamond Lane: Mass Formation Arrivals at Osh bring Connection and Camaraderie. By Jolie Lucas. Published on August 8, 2016.