I would like to correct some remarks made in a letter published in The Times April 13 in response to my views on pilot training ("Former Test Pilot Takes On the FAA Over Air Safety").
James L. Hayhurst, a first officer for PSA, says I display "considerable ignorance about the real issues affecting our air transportation system." I do have some knowledge about our air transportation system and the training of airline pilots--especially those of PSA. I was in charge of Lockheed flight operations during the time PSA received its first Lockheed Model 188 Electras, and I personally assigned my best flight crew instructors (former airline pilots) to PSA's training program. The late Kenny Friedkin, founder of PSA, and Bill Shimp, then chief pilot, commended us for establishing a "benchmark of excellence."
My comments did not refer to all new airline pilots. I did say that most civilian trained pilots, by FAA standards, are inadequately trained and, further, most flight instructors are unfit to teach any kind of flying.
Hayhurst refers to my "irresponsible claim" that the crew of the Delta L-1011 that crashed at Dallas last year "slaughtered 200 innocent people." Of course, I don't believe anyone in his or her right mind would want to kill anyone, least of all himself.
Delta Air Lines is an outstanding example of what an airline should be, as are most of the long-established air carriers I have known. Nevertheless, in the case of the fateful Delta flight, the flight crew apparently did not heed the age-old maxim, "Don't mess with thunderstorms!"
Based on the transcript of the last minute and 34 seconds of this flight, the co-pilot noted: "Lightning coming out of the clouds directly ahead on approach for landing." The captain apparently made no attempt to abort the landing or to alert the crew. About one minute later, a severe gust of wind hit the plane and, from that moment until the final crash, the aircraft was virtually out of control.
Thunderstorms (and accompanying lightning) have long been the scourge of aviators. One of my old flight instructors once told me, "Son, stay clear of thunderstorms; they are mean and bite like hell!"
President, S.A.F.E. Inc.