It can now be revealed how air transportation became so flawed – that two (2) nominally qualified pilots were so spatially confused, as to literally fly a serviceable, modern airliner into the ocean, despite onboard installation of quote “Terrain Avoidance Warning Systems (TAWS)” unquote, which were functioning, while under controlled flight, at the time of accident.
In 1957, US Navy Commander George Hoover – a universal genius of far ranging intellect, vision & capacity – declassified his system of spatial awareness for Navy jet aircraft Aviators, known as the Command Flight Path Display (CFPD) and presented it to Capt. Dan Beard, Vice President of Flight for American Airlines (AAL), at a convening of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), Aviation Committee, which Capt. Beard chaired.
The CFPD – informally dubbed the “Highway In The Sky” – was so intuitive & immediate for spatial awareness that it would end unintentional “Controlled Flight Into Terrain” (CFIT) altogether, in air transportation, military flight and the larger aviation community.
Inexplicably, Capt. Beard effected no action to install Cdr. Hoover’s system on American Airlines aircraft.
Over the years, mounting to decades, American Airlines and the industry, suffered ongoing fatal CFIT accidents, needlessly killing tens of thousands worldwide – including the devastating crash of an American Airlines Boeing 757 aircraft at Cali, Columbia on 20 December 1995, killing 160 – in spatial confusion circumstances not dissimilar to the present Micronesia occasion of September 2018.
Three (3) years earlier, in 1992, First Officer P. E. Brooks, AAL, had briefed then AAL Vice President of Flight, Capt. Bill James, a former Naval Aviator, about Cdr. Hoover’s system, describing even then – some nearly 40 years after first releasing his Navy system to American – Cdr. Hoover was ready to help install the system on American’s fleet.
Capt. James was untimely killed a few months later, in a Park City, Utah skiing accident – ending for the nonce, official renewed initiative on the ‘Highway In The Sky’ at American, and sealing the fate of the AAL 757 passengers & crew at Cali, Columbia, still some three years out from their appointed rendezvous with mortality.
Ironically, unbeknownst to Capt. James – until just those few months prior to his own death – he had owed his life to a Geo. Hoover mandated ejection seat installation, while departing his troubled Navy F-8 Crusader.
James’ successor, Capt. Cecil Ewell, AAL, also a Navy Combat Aviator, was briefed in detail about the CFPD system, by FO Brooks in the very same office, in 1997, following receipt of the Cali, Columbia crash investigation report – in company of Capt. Rich LaVoy, AAL, President of the Allied Pilots Association (APA), Capt. Frank Nehlig, AAL (Ret.), and Mike Lewis, Director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Aviation Safety Program.
Capt. Ewell likewise effected no action to install Cdr. Hoover’s system on American aircraft. Capt. Ewell did advocate installing the provisional Allied Signal, Inc. “Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System” (EGPWS) on AAL aircraft.
See, “Highways In The Sky: Aviation On The Road Ahead“, by FO Brooks, in the July/August 1997 issue of “FLIGHTLINE”, a publication of the Allied Pilots Association.
This very same EGPWS system was installed aboard & operating correctly, during the Boeing 737 2018 Micronesia crash.
Those onboard could not have known eventuality of their crash, had been predicted two (2) decades earlier – despite the EGPWS installation – in FO Brooks’ 1997 article.
On a flight deck jump seat, awaiting pushback at that time, departing Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (KDFW), American Airlines’ AMR CEO Don Carty, was shown still images of the ‘Highway In The Sky’ system by FO Brooks, exclaiming,
“Wow, I didn‘t even know we had this stuff!”
Mr. Carty then readily accepted invitation for a complete briefing soon to follow.
Capt. Ewell later advised FO Brooks by telephone, CEO Carty would not be disposed to receive the CFPD briefing after all, nominally amid labor relations disputes, which had surfaced at American.
During this time, an AAL Boeing 727-223, crashed short of the runway, in controlled flight, low visibility conditions – not dissimilar to the present instant – at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (KORD).
The morning following the KAL crash, during a ‘Flight Deck Technology’ conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, Capt. John Hutchison, British Airways (BA) Ret., a Boeing 747 and later Concorde pilot, offered remarks to several hundred breakfasting industry attendees stating,
‘The only way to solve the CFIT problem,
is to deploy the ‘Highway In The Sky’ system
First Officer Brooks is advocating in his conference white paper.’
In November 1997, FO Brooks travelled to England to address the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) about the ‘Highway In The Sky’ – receiving their whole hearted endorsement, along with an invitation to be made an RAeS Fellow.
RAeS reprinted an updated version of the “Flightline” article and circulated it to RAeS membership in 130 countries.
While in Europe, FO Brooks recruited participation of others, at centers of advanced ‘Synthetic Vision’ work in Delft & Amsterdam of The Netherlands and at Hamburg, Darmstadt, Frankfurt & Munich, Germany.
Special Effects Wizard Douglas Trumbull, of “2001: A Space Odyssey” movie renown, teamed with FO Brooks to produce the short film “HIGHWAYS IN THE SKY: AVIATION ON THE ROAD AHEAD“, premiered at the first of two “Synthetic Vision” conferences at NASA’s Langley, Virginia, Aviation Safety Program, attended by industry hundreds from around the world.
FAA Administrator Jane Garvey screened the “HIGHWAYS” film at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC in a briefing prepared especially for her, by attending board members of the Allied Pilots Association – including President Capt. LaVoy & Treasurer First Officer Bob Morgan, AAL. FO Brooks detailed to Mrs. Garvey, the impeccable credentials of highly experienced, Captain Nick Tafuri, AAL & First Officer Donnie Williams, AAL a former US Air Force pilot, as professional airmen of the ill-fated Cali crash – much like the Micronesia crew.
Administrator Garvey issued a public statement, saying,
‘Highway–type Synthetic Vision systems
represent a potentially significant enhancement
to the safety & efficiency of
the National Air Transportation System.’
Later the “HIGHWAYS” film was exhibited to NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin, his staff & American Airlines’ AMR Vice Chairman, Bob Baker (deceased), at an Industry Conference hosted by NASA’s Cleveland Lewis Research Center at Cleveland International Airport (KCLE), Ohio, in October 1998.
A former TRW, Inc. engineer involved in sensor-based spatial awareness, Administrator Goldin, in company with attending FAA Administrator Garvey on the dais, detailed to five or six hundred industry attendees, one day soon, a business jet would depart from Cleveland, arrive at Teterboro, NJ and return safely, using ‘Synthetic Vision’ – never having seen anything through the cockpit windows.
It began to appear the ‘Highway In The Sky’ would at last lead to broad industry advancement.
That morning, at a private breakfast with FO Brooks, AMR Vice Chairman Baker had offered to set up a meeting in Seattle, WA with Boeing CEO Phil Condit, to prime the pump for a ‘Highways’ paradigm shift among vendors and at American. To his credit, Baker later testified before Congressional committee, as to desirability of commencing ‘Synthetic Vision’ cooperation between industry, the FAA & NASA – though internal AMR company communications would later omit this portion of his testimony from an AAL employee news publication.
Based on the ‘Highways’ briefing for Administrator Goldin, NASA earmarked an additional 50 Million USD for ‘Synthetic Vision‘ programs in NASA‘s Aviation Safety Program.
Later in December 1998, Goldin convened an executive level meeting with aviation industry CEO’s, about larger cooperation with NASA on ‘Synthetic Vision’ and other necessary improvements to air transportation. Mr. Goldin was at pains to demonstrate he regarded the industry as NASA’s customers. In fact, he vigorously asserted this doctrine to fidgety NASA employees in attendance at the Cleveland conference – in front of everyone.
The industry knock was NASA folks enjoy ‘science projects’ with little practical effect in the marketplace.
To his credit – on his watch at least – this would not be so, for Administrator Goldin’s NASA.
Goldin specifically authorized the Space Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) to acquire topographic data over 80% of Earth’s land mass, creating the first ever near-global dataset of land elevations. The ten day mission flew from 11 – 22 February 2000, producing terrain data necessary to populate the ‘Highway In The Sky’ Terrain Database for aviation.
Never before had industry & government functioned so well together. It was happening!
Meanwhile, FO Brooks & Professor Wolfgang Kubbet of the University of Technology – Darmstadt, Germany agreed to write a proposal to NASA to fund creating terrain database protocols necessary for ongoing monitoring of changing surface obstacle data, into the future. FO Brooks dubbed the effort the “International Terrain Database Integrity Group” (ITDIG). Commercial aviation chart manufacturer Jeppeson, Inc. hungrily joined in & the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA) stood up an industry committee to manage the work. The Allied Pilots Association detailed a Graphic Navigation Committee member pilot to serve as secretary for the group.
NASA’s Aviation Safety Program issued a contract for the work.
NASA’s ’Synthetic Vision’ systems were flown on NASA 737 and 757 aircraft by technical pilots of American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and others – at KDFW, terrain challenged Reno International Airport (KRNO) & elsewhere.
Sadly, labor relations descended further into long-simmering acrimony for Americans Airlines and its employee groups in the late 1990’s and abruptly, advances on shifting paradigm for true spatial awareness in air transportation aircraft – using the “Highway In The Sky” – were quietly subsumed by what can now be judged, as pecuniary, shortsighted considerations.
At length, Cdr. Hoover (USN, Ret.) died and was interred with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery in March 1998, eulogized by former US Marine Corps Aviator, member of the ‘President’s Hundred’ at the National Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio, the Marine Corps High Power Rifle Team and the APA Graphic Navigation Committee (GNC), First Officer Jeffrey Cooper, AAL.
The US Navy refused a fly over.
American Airlines LAX Chief Pilot, Capt. Len Duncan, a former Navy S-3 Viking Aircraft Commander, refused First Officer Brooks’ attendance at the memorial despite request of Cdr. Hoover’s widow for a eulogy. Captain Duncan had, a decade earlier, handed an American Airlines pilot employment application to FO Brooks, a then US Coast Guard HU-25A Guardian (Falcon Jet) Aircraft Commander.
Cdr. Hoover’s farsighted thumbprint on American Society is yet understood by naught but a handful of remaining admirers.
In fact, the flat panel display you are reading this recitation with now, extended as just one of many innovations in Hoover’s remarkable military, aeronautical & space programs.
Capt. Cecil Ewell, a Navy Combat veteran, (retired from AMR with full pension & perquisites intact) never realized his full charter for leadership in the air transportation sector, as Vice President of Flight for American Airlines, the largest air carrier in the world.
His oft recited airman maxim,
“Enter no airspace your mind has not already occupied,”
now echoes hollow with tinny irony, as deficiencies of the EGPWS system he advocated, are laid bare, in the continuing operation.
Capt. Rich Lavoy, a former Navy P-3 Orion Aircraft Commander, later retired from American Airlines, having been shooed from office by impatient peers embroiled in labor strife with AMR, who felt compulsion to shift from his long-view, visionary leadership style, as President of the pilot’s association, to a ledger-oriented, dollars & cents approach. APA’s Graphic Navigation Committee – stood up to lead the industry to the necessary future beckoned by Cdr. Hoover’s insightful vision – was abdicated in near-sighted, even myopic focus, at the moment it was needed most for burgeoning air transportation. This was especially true in non-English speaking cultures, where international standard, English-placarded flight decks, are nevertheless a necessity to operability in global air traffic. Pilot Association board members never quite grasped that emoluments & remunerations they coveted to extract, from an adversarial Railway Labor Act (RLA) process, lay before them like a smorgasbord of professional credibility, in the industry leadership they eschewed to harvest, by shifting operational paradigms from ancestor worship, ‘steam gauge instrumentation’ to the compelling spatial freedom of graphic displays.
Design void, created by the American pilots association leaders’ folding their tent on ‘Synthetic Vision’, connects directly to the present Micronesia event. They had turned their backs on perhaps the greatest opportunity that would ever present itself, to reshape their entrenched industry – mired in decades of railroad style, steam gauge thinking – to emerge as the new leaders of an improved, more humane, safer & more effective air transportation system.
CEO Don Carty of AMR stepped down, sometime after a teleconference call on the afternoon of September 11th, 2001, with his fellow US major airline CEO’s and the FAA Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety & Security, Lieutenant General Michael Canavan, US Army (Ret.), during which Mr. Carty and his peers strenuously & unanimously argued for getting US airliners immediately back up in the air, to prosecute airline business plans,
despite continuing, unmitigated, demonstrated threats,
to the American public and to the nation’s strategic infrastructure
by air terrorism,
all of which registered on the chagrined, disbelieving ears of Administrator Canavan, who had just been seated in his FAA safety post, a short nine months earlier in December, 2000.
He would not last long.
Later it would be realized,
as many as a dozen aircraft had been targeted for use,
in attacks from coast to coast.
AMR and American Airlines would pay a dear price for Mr. Carty’s stunning hubris, when a week into October of 2001, an American Airlines Boeing 767 wide body aircraft suffered another breach attack upon its cockpit, nearly causing loss of the aircraft and its over 170 passengers & crew – while on descent into heavily populated metropolitan Chicago, as a disturbed assailant burst through the cockpit door at a run, grabbing the captain’s control yoke, intent upon crashing the aircraft from altitude.
Air Transportation owed its very continuity to the courageous flight crew onboard that day, including Capt. Dean Weber, AAL & First Officer Vince Belzer, AAL, who physically fought the intruder off and subdued him.
Capt. Weber managed to keep the wide body jet in controlled flight during the wild cockpit melee.
A former US Marine Corps Aviator and collegiate wrestler, FO Belzer exercised remarkable restraint in sparing the life of the assailant that day – literally while New York’s toppled Twin Towers were still smoldering, on the heels of September’s horrific 9/11 events just weeks earlier – realizing in the moment, a deadheading, uniformed American First Officer had raced forward, in company of other passengers, to appear at the cockpit door to assist FO Belzer with removing the attacker from the flight deck. It was a sticky instant as – all alone – Vince was compelled to quickly decipher what purpose brought them en masse to his door step, just then.
Had that aircraft gone down – so quickly on the heels of 9/11 tragedies – it is certain the entire air transportation industry would have been grounded once more, this time for an extended period, pending results of the accident investigation & deployment of substantive measures to secure the National Air Transportation System, something yet to be fully achieved…even now.
So much for business plans.
Several weeks earlier, an internal American Airlines memo, entitled “Airline Safety Action Plan” (ASAP), prepared by FO Brooks, had predicted such ‘copycat’ attacks upon the flight decks of transport aircraft.
In reflection, it was easy to see – now that it was understood how simple it was to enter the flight deck – there would follow more of the same.
The ‘ASAP’ memo was circulated among pilot officials, AAL Flight Managers and forwarded to Senior Vice President of Operations for American, Gerard Arpey, (later AMR CEO) describing concrete measures, in a ‘2 week, 2 month, 2 year’ response, to secure the nation’s air carrier operations.
The ‘ASAP’ plan would go largely unheeded – save perhaps for some well-meaning, but ineffectual Congressional interest – even to present.
Capt. Frank Nehlig, a former combat proven Naval Aviation Pilot (NAP) like Geo. Hoover and former American Airlines Base Manager at Los Angeles International Airport (KLAX) – during Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) lift provided by American Airlines, supporting opposition to Communist incursion in Southeast Asia during the 1970’s – was laid to rest along the banks of the Delaware River, on a little rise, underneath the approach path to Philadelphia International Airport (KPHL).
He maintains quiescent vigil there, peradventure, a solitary sentinel – should his brethren stray below glideslope, of a future dark & stormy evening in Pennsylvania.
Captain Nehlig had accompanied FO Brooks on several enjoyable visits to Cdr. & Mrs. Hoover’s lovely Pacific Palisades home, to discuss American Airlines deployment of George’s ‘Highway’ system.
As his fellows long observed,
First Officer Brooks was excoriated by airline functionaries, when he and other American pilots across the system, stood to voice candid objections, to continuing operations – absent substantive mitigation of security threats in the weeks & months following the demonstrated breaches of the 9/11 attacks.
He had refused to choke down the perverse Big Lie, controlling airline managers had foisted upon pilots & cabin crew, to parrot before the traveling public that – All is Well & Not to Worry.
Once again, his admonitions had proved prescient.
Out of these contested chapters, returned the long-denied capacity of US air transport pilots to keep & bear arms, for protection of their passengers, crew and the American public.
Ten years later, on 1 November 2011, before AMR would prospectively declare bankruptcy, as parent corporation of American Airlines, FO Brooks retired – per force, some fourteen years early – to preserve receipt of what pension had till then accrued.
Among the 10,000 pilots at American only some 270 senior airmen managed to correctly decipher the signals, departing with pensions intact, before that door would promptly swing shut forever. Ironically, the sudden departure of these senior pilots – many populating the wide body, international routes, where the greater increment of revenue is yielded – forced the hand of CEO Arpey and his rapacious band of Wall Street privateers, to prematurely trigger the corporate bomb they had constructed, distastefully imploding the airline early, during the lucrative holiday travel season, as international crew ranks thinned alarmingly and prospect of further early retirements loomed in the AAL pilot corps, creating a great sucking sound, as revenue waned among unserviced routes & as pension obligations quickly mounted by an order of magnitude greater than customary – a double whammy.
Such were the sub-geniuses afoot at the helm of the world’s largest airline.
Their tens of millions in personal guarantees and more, at length did however, demonstrate a certain clever venality, by the bye.
Messieurs Arpey, Horton, et al, at AMR, while busy accounting their pre-packaged fortunes, would perhaps never realize the coded signals passed among experienced American airmen – in the clear, for all with ears to hear – portending of the Damoclean Sword about to befall them.
Enter no airspace your mind has not already occupied.
Nonetheless, for the larger part, the dawning realization by pilot leaders that they had inadvertently backed their way into the control they had long coveted at American Airlines, by finally withholding their further service & choosing whole, lump sum retirements, rather than bindings of tenuous lifetime annuities from the Airline – in an industry with virtually no margin over it’s previous century of blood, sweat, tears & travail, among the wind scoured bones of many a defunct carrier – came too late for pilots to wield with practical effect.
The power yet available to them in withholding their service entirely – RLA be damned – would soon be smartly curtailed forever.
On November 29th, 2011, AMR motioned for Chapter 11 Reorganization, in the US Southern District Court of Manhattan, advised by Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, in a secret, prepared action – months in the planning – that would see some 40% of employee pensions and more, dissolved at a stroke, under summary gavel of a complicit, buccaneer bankruptcy court.
AMR had some $5 Billion in cash and tens of billions more – in American Airlines routes & assets – at time of its gratuitous filing.
The soaring American Airlines Eagle was now become a Predatory Capital Vulture.
In Matthew 6:24 we learn,
You cannot serve God and mammon.
T’was ever thus.
Thus did it come to pass, that at Chuuk in Micronesia, a perfectly good passenger jet could be accidentally driven into the water, with many lives precariously in the balance, in scheduled air transportation, as late as the year of our Lord 2018, while systems to preclude such an ignominious fate had flagged untended for six (6) decades and more, at the highest levels of air transportation authority.
And so it goes.
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