Denis M. Arbeau


Flying more dangerous now than it was 75 years ago? That's silly, you say? I can understand why you would feel that way. Your pilot's license is not signed by Orville Wright and don't fly an old antique bi-plane with an unreliable 90 some-odd horsepower engine that may quit at any moment. Your engine is highly maintained to the strict levels that common sense and safety require. It is a basic, relatively modern, long reliable design that has flown millions of safe hours in thousands of airplanes. Modern airplane engines rarely fail and in fact the vast majority of pilots today will never experience an actual engine failure in their entire flying career.

In his short story, "THE SNOWFLAKE AND THE DINOSAUR", from the book "GIFT OF WINGS", Richard Bach wrote... "When you fly old-time airplanes, you expect to have forced landings now and then. It's nothing special, it's part of the game, and no wise pilot flies an antique out of gliding distance of a place to land. In my few years flying, I'd had seventeen forced landings, not one of which I had ever thought unfair, for all of which I was more or less prepared. But this was different. The Luscombe I flew now was hardly an antique... and had one of the world's most reliable engines. Modern airplane pilots... don't want to be bothered with such things as aerobatic training and forced-landing practice. Chances are rare that they'll ever stop or that a minor little linkage will break in half. Because a forced landing... is honestly quite unfair, I began to realize that pilots get to thinking it can't possibly happen."

Today, most pilots, from the time they go to full throttle on takeoff until the moment they turn off the runway, are not mentally prepared to immediately deal with the challenge of what they would do and where they would land if an engine failed. Ironically, it is because of the reliability of modern aviation engines that the vast majority of pilots are lulled into being unprepared.

I've given more than 10,000 hours of dual instruction and have seldom seen pilots handle unexpected simulated engine failures properly during training or BFRs. Usually, the first few critical seconds after all goes quiet are spent inactive in shock trying to deal with the fact that the unthinkable has happened. The worst case scenario had come true. When the pilot has not kept his continuous plan for dealing with an engine failure in the back of his mind, surviving the ensuing forced landing is 90% luck. I've seen it. Time and time again.

AIRPLANES DO NOT PLUMMET STRAIGHT DOWN TO THE GROUND AFTER AN ENGINE FAILURE! A pilot who is not mentally prepared to manage a forced landing will most likely panic and try to make the airplane do something it is not capable of doing. In fact there is a group of internet Swifters out there who will recall as they read this update that they were standing right next to me a few years ago at Shelter Cove airport in Northern California when we were witnesses to a pilot reacting in just that way. He took his wife, 2 kids and least of all a very nice Stinson with him... Most forced landings that end in fatalities are the result of the pilot stalling the airplane close to the ground in some panic driven attempt to delay the inevitable. It must be understood that when forced landings are accomplished with the aircraft under positive control, even in impossible terrain, the pilot has the best chance of survival.

Am I telling you anything you didn't know? Of course not you say. Easy to say "of course not" when you sit safe and secure staring into your computer screen. But when you are, let's say, 500' in the air and the engine stops and you were not ready for something like this to happen how well do you think you are gonna handle it??? Like I said I've seen exceptions but probably you won't do very well. (Oh brother... I'm starting to sound like Richard Collins now...)

Sure, sometimes we fly our aircraft in situations and/or over terrain where if the engine stops it's gonna be hard if not impossible to find a reasonably safe place to set down. It is our right and our decision to accept that risk should we choose to do so. But not being prepared in your mind to correctly deal with the unexpected significantly increases that risk even over the most ideal types of forced landing terrain.

Most instructors are good about teaching and practicing forced landings with their students. The best ones even find a way to encourage those pilots that they can influence to practice these tasks with an instructor from time to time. But many overlook development of that ALL THE TIME mind-set in their students that keeps them thinking about how they would handle an engine failure at any given moment while in flight. THAT is the key to being properly prepared to have a reasonable chance to bring a forced landing to a successful conclusion.

I'll probably go flying within the next 24 hours after I write what you've just finished reading here. If I am true to what I've just discussed, I will, after I take the runway and just before I go to full throttle, turn on that switch in the back of my mind that arms me to react to an engine failure as best I can and that switch will not be turned off until I am back on the ground. Instructors can tell us to do that, but we gotta remember to do it.

So my reasoning when I claimed that flying can be more dangerous today than it was 75 years ago might just be sound if you consider that 75 years ago most every pilot was expecting and ready for an engine failure. Today, most pilots are not.

Until next time,


SWIFTS OLD AND NEW... (Did ya really think I was gonna keep my big mouth shut on this one???)

Legal declarations may influence our outward actions but in many cases thay cannot change our thoughts and perceptions. So I will always consider each aircraft involved in the LoPresti/Aviat/Swift Museum Foundation situation to be, in a manner of speaking, the same. In my mind they are all a "Swift". A "Fury" or "Millennium" moniker will not take away the inspiration and heritage of the aircraft.

Regardless of the name, both of the new aircraft types involved may be significantly changed but they will continue to possess the soul of the original Swifts. If the new "Swifts" are built, and if those of us who own and fly original Swifts have the chance to fly these newcomers, we will experience many of the wonderful sensations that we have grown accustomed to with our beloved classic originals. The package may be different, but many of the feelings will be oh so familiar. (Except in my case climbing at 1000+ feet per minute. THAT feeling is NOT a familiar feeling to the owner of a 145hp Swift...)

Let's be done with the lawyers. Let's preserve the classic Swifts and build new ones. (Regardless of what names we will be obliged to call them.) Let the flying public decide the success or failure of these endeavors. Not the courts.

Roy LoPresti expressed my thoughts quite nicely in his email that you read earlier in this update...

"Guys, let's let Mr. Horn focus on what he is doing and let's let the Swift Museum Foundation and Charlie Nelson, the guardians of the Swift, continue to do what they've done over the years and let's let Roy LoPresti get on with his all-new airplane... Amen."

Amen, indeed.

Until next time,


In a past internet update I published a letter that was originally published in the February 2000 Pacific Flyer Aviation News <> by So-Cal Swifter Ron Urbonas regarding Swifts compared to the RV series of homebuilt airplanes. Just to refresh your memory, Ron's letter to Pacific Flyer was printed in Pacific Flyer as followed...


Regarding your section "B" cover (PF, Jan. 2000) you state that Fred LaForge's RV-4 is a big step up from his Swift! Yeah, right! Like stepping up from Mercedes into a Volkswagen. Myself and I am sure most of the Swift pilots would consider going from a super handling classic Swift to a cramped little flivver like RV-4 a big step down. I have never flown an RV-4 but recently had an opportunity to fly (an) RV-6. I found it quite roomy, pleasant handling and friendly airplane, but still inferior to a Swift. Big step-up indeed? But I guess everybody is downsizing these days. Ron Urbonas, Rancho Cucamonga, CA.


Wanting to keep the peace between the Swift and RV camps, but also because Ron felt it necessary to go beyond just his own opinion by saying "most Swift pilots", I responded with the following letter to the editor that was printed in the March 2000 issue of Pacific Flyer...


Before we let Mr. Urbonas' letter in the Feb issue single handedly start a feud between the RV gang and the Swifters, I want to make it very clear that Mr. Urbonas' less than flattering opinions regarding the RV-4 compared to a Swift are his own. If my experience with my fellow Swifters regarding RV-4s is any indication, Mr. Urbonas' opinions DO NOT represent those of, as he puts it, "most Swift pilots". As a Swift owner, like Mr. Urbonas, I am very much in love with Swifts. Unlike Mr. Urbonas, I do not feel that ANY RV series airplane is "inferior" or a "big step down" from a Swift. In fact, with the same horsepower, an RV will quite easily out perform a Swift. Also, unlike Mr. Urbonas, (who after he felt the need to demean the RV-4 also admitted that he had never flown one), I have flown many RV-4s and found each one a joy to fly. Just like every Swift I've ever flown was a joy to fly. My dear RV'ers... Please do not let one man's misguided opinion cause you to sail past every Swift you see in flight and do point rolls at near 200 mph as you soar off into the distance. Pull up along side first and if the Swift pilot smiles and waves you've got a friend. THEN, sail off at near 200 mph doing point rolls... Denis Arbeau, Napa, CA


Received the following email from Nor-Cal Swifter Miquel Nelson who read my letter in Pacific Flyer and has also lived both sides of the Swift/RV experience...


From: Miguel Nelson <>
Subject: Editorial in March Pacific Flyer
I would like to compliment you on your excellent editorial about the RV-4 bashing. I couldn't have said it better myself. I don't know if you are aware that my roommate here in Cameron Park who is a Southwest pilot (and F-16 Air National Guard pilot) owns an RV-4. He keeps it right here at the house and we seem to get along just fine! We have actually had some interesting dogfights over Folsom Lake. I too have flown a number of RV-4's and you assessment was right on the money. "Smokey" has a 150 hp Lycoming with a wood propeller and his RV-4 is just about equal in performance to my 210 hp Swift. Plus I will not subject my 54 year old airframe to the G's that he will, even if I have a basically new wing. He seems to always whine, (well he is an Air Force pilot!), that I have 60 more horses and a constant speed prop, but I remind him that my airplane is almost 500 lbs heavier than his and 1940's technology. His RV-4 is one of the nicest I have seen, even if it does have an Air Force paint scheme, and he can take pride in the fact that he built it himself. We both actually share a mutual admiration for each other's airplane's and have gotten a good laugh at the recent editorials in the Pacific Flyer. We always have fun taking a two-plane adventure somewhere when we are both off at the same time. In fact we are flying to Sun & Fun together in April. Our good natured rivalry runs only from the different branches of the military we served in, not from what each other flies for pleasure or work for that matter. -- Ozzie


All in good fun, these kind of things. There are too many things more improtant in our lives to take these kind of opinions too seriously. Still, while good natured rivalries are fun, having every RV'er out there gunning for every Swift that comes along is something I'd rather do without. But I'd love to hear other opinions !!! In any event, let's hope this puts the brakes on any rivalries and to Ozzie, I'd love to see a formation shot of your Swift and your buddy's RV on the way to Sun N Fun together...

Until next time,

So... as circumstances would have it, my lovely bride got first crack at the West Coast Swift Wing newsletter when it arrived in the "snail-mail" Saturday afternoon. Wasn't long before I heard her say... "I thought you said you went to the Swift fly-in at Petaluma last weekend." Of course, I had and I told her so but then she said... "Well, according to the newsletter you weren't there." Next thing I know, she's in the laundry hamper checking my t-shirts for the smell of perfume and signs of lipstick. Meanwhile, I'm grabbing the WCSW newsletter to see what's going on and sure enough, according to the fly-in report right before my eyes, I wasn't there. Now I know how Bill Stein felt. (Inside joke...)

So... Jim & Carolyn Roberts, George Divanian, Jack & Lois Lindley, Frank Silveria, Bob McKay, Miguel Nelson, Dave & Karen Palmer, and Tom Numelin... Next time you see Erin, please, Please, PLEASE tell her that I really was at the fly-in.

(By the way, does anybody know a good way to get lipstick off a t-shirt???)

Until next time,


One day I discovered that the ignition switch on my truck had worn to the point that I could pull the key out even with the ignition on. It reminded me of a funny incident when I was still instructing down in the Los Angeles area. I was with a low time pre-solo student in a Cessna 152 and just as we rotated on takeoff the ignition key fell onto the floor. My student let out a blood curdling scream and dove for the keys with both hands. I took the controls, of course, because this event totally distracted the student from his number one priority... FLY THE AIRPLANE FIRST!!! (A good lesson for him...) Later, when we discussed the incident, my student told me he was sure that the engine would stop. Understandable considering his level of experience but before we flew again a review of the ignition system and ignition switch design cleared up any misconceptions. Needless to say, a new ignition switch was installed in the Cessna before the next flight.

As I look back now on the humorous aspects of that event, I recall another incident that was far from humorous caused by the same mag switch problem... An aircraft owner was trying to pull the propeller through by hand after an aborted start. (Don't know why...) Being the careful sort, he made doubly sure the mag keys were in his pocket. Suddenly the engine started, panicking the pilot's passenger who was in the right seat. The passenger began pushing controls, causing the engine to go to full power. The aircraft accelerated for a distance of about 50 yards stopping only upon striking a large rock and two parked automobiles.

What had occured is that when the ignition key was pulled out the mag switch was still in the right mag position. Worn tumblers allowed this to happen when, besides turning the key to what the pilot thought was the off position, he was also applying a pulling force on the key as he turned it.

When student pilots learn the reasons for the various items on aircraft checklists, checking the magneto switch in the off position before beginning the preflight will many times have the student questioning the necessity of this when the key is not actually in the switch. worn tumblers resulting in situations like the two you've just read about is one of the reasone.


As Swifter Dick Collins says...
"Don't let your bag of luck get empty, before your bag of experience is full!!!"

Until next time,