Tuesday, June 6, 2023

FAA: Autopilot Problem Doomed Morgan

The FAA said an autopilot problem is probably what killed former State Senator John Morgan when his plane crashed in the woods of Northwest Arkansas on May 17. 
The preliminary investigative report states Mr. Morgan contacted a repair facility at Drake Field in Fayetteville to discuss "autopilot issues" with his Beech E-90 plane. Mr. Morgan said the plane would engage in a steep left bank when "engaged in heading hold mode."*

Mr. Morgan discussed the problems with an avionics technician at the facility.  The technician recommended bringing the plane in for maintenance but told him not to use the autopilot during the flight.  The report tells how Mr. Morgan's life ended that day: 

According to Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) data, the flight originated from the University-Oxford Airport (UOX), Oxford, Mississippi, about 1127, and proceeded on a direct course toward FYV. The airplane climbed to 16,000 ft msl and remained there until 1221 when a descent was initiated. The descent continued to 8,000 ft msl when the airplane leveled briefly before descending again. The airplane continued on a straight heading toward FYV until 1230 when the airplane made a turn to the left. At this time, the airplane was about 6,100 ft msl. The airplane continued descending and flew toward VIXMU, which was an intermediate/initial approach fix (IF/IAF) for the RNAV runway 34 approach to FYV. The airplane turned to the right before reaching VIXMU, and then turned slightly to the left placing it on a 45° intercept for the approach segment between VIXMU and OPVIE, which was the final approach fix (FAF). During this time the airplane descended to about 3,525 ft, then climbed back up to 3,950 ft. When it had reached 3,950 ft it began a right turn, presumably to intercept the inbound approach course, but the airplane continued in the right turn and descended (see Figures 1 and 2). The final ADS-B data point, about 0.1 miles from the accident site, was at 1236:26 with a recorded altitude of 2,900 ft msl. The calculated descent rate between the final two data points was in excess of 15,000 ft/min

The airplane impacted wooded terrain, descending through an opening in the tree canopy. Based on the damage to the surrounding trees, the impact signatures and the airplane damage, the descent was near vertical. Both engines and propellers were embedded in the terrain, and the entire airplane was fragmented.

Morgan was 76 years old and co-owner of the Morgan-White Group. 

* Aviation Dictionary defines heading hold mode as In a flight control system, a control mode that automatically maintains an aircraft heading that existed at the instant of completion of a maneuver. Also called a heading lock.


Anonymous said...

What a horrible tragedy for such a fine man

Anonymous said...

Yeah of course I was right.
You still deleted my comment.

Anonymous said...

I leave flying to the pilots with many years of

The recreational flyers are 40 percent more likely to be involved in an accident (major or minor) vs. a pilot with thousands of hour flight time.... Source: Sky & Pilot, Flying Time vs. Accidents, August 1982.

Anonymous said...

As a pilot reading this it suggests to me that he was hand flying the approach and lost control possibly due to spatial disorientation as it was instrument weather conditions. I don't think you can blame the autopilot yet. I am sure the final NTSB report will have a more definitive answer.

Anonymous said...

I am an aviation enthusiast who is sadly unable to fly due to my health.
Every aviation tragedy is a learning experience that ultimately leads to improvements in aviation safety.
Even horrific disasters like Tenerife and JAL 123 contributed to the overall safety of aviation. JAL123 lead to a lasting change in culture among Japanese commercial aviation.

Anonymous said...

When certain systems malfunction at an altitude of +6300 feet, a human loses the ability to breath.

Anonymous said...

It would be both helpful and informative if 1:35 would share his knowledge of avionics and tell us what is so magical about 6,300 feet. There is more than one of us waiting on this.

Anonymous said...

There are many examples to back up this one rule:

Stay out of small airplanes and helicopters, and off of motorcycles.

Anonymous said...

Actually O2 is not required until much higher.

§ 91.211 Supplemental oxygen.

(a) General. No person may operate a civil aircraft of U.S. registry—

(1) At cabin pressure altitudes above 12,500 feet (MSL) up to and including 14,000 feet (MSL) unless the required minimum flight crew is provided with and uses supplemental oxygen for that part of the flight at those altitudes that is of more than 30 minutes duration;

(2) At cabin pressure altitudes above 14,000 feet (MSL) unless the required minimum flight crew is provided with and uses supplemental oxygen during the entire flight time at those altitudes; and

(3) At cabin pressure altitudes above 15,000 feet (MSL) unless each occupant of the aircraft is provided with supplemental oxygen.

Anonymous said...

For all the would-be Wright Brothers opining and claiming expertise:


You may not totally lose the ability to breath, become dizzy and disoriented at 63, but with malfunctioning equipment and another thousand (which ain't much) you certainly CAN.

Anonymous said...

1:35 that would explain the thousands of vacationer bodies littering the Grand Canyon every year. They should post a sign.

Anonymous said...

@4:59 - I'm one of the "Wright Brothers" you refer to, and I took the trouble to read your referenced article from Cleveland Clinic. I also have hundreds of flying hours, am multi-engine and instrument rated. In addition I have over 20 years experience in high altitude mountaineering. You may have the same life experiences as I do, but we are going to have to disagree about the 6,300 foot elevation. This is not mentioned anywhere in the referenced article, and never in my years of flying has this been brought up. Johnny was a friend of mine, and this was a terrible accident. Also, I was not in the plane with him, so I have no idea what caused this accident. Those making comments about what they do not know in times like these should be ashamed of themselves.

Anonymous said...

Years ago after doing touch and goes in a 172 at Madison airport a recently retired airline pilot said “you know what an instrument rating is while flying a single engine airplane? A license to kill yourself.”

Many years later another retired airline polite said “we (airline pilots) call twin prop planes widow-makers,” after we had recently lost a friend that crashed and died in one flying solo.

Anonymous said...

Amen 8:05

Anonymous said...

For the 'Wright Brother' at 8:05...

"You may not totally lose the ability to breath, become dizzy and disoriented at 63, but with malfunctioning equipment and another thousand (which ain't much) you certainly CAN."

Without being wordy, is that statement true or false? Simple question.

Anonymous said...

9:51 troll it is false. FAA sets an 8000ft cabin pressurization minimum for all commercial aircraft for a reason. When was the last time you got disoriented on a commercial flight?

Anonymous said...

I'm still waiting for 9:51's response to 11:12's question.

Anonymous said...

If I had to take my plane to the shop for an autopilot problem, I would make sure it was a CAVU day.

Anonymous said...

I have rarely seen so many completely erroneous comments in one place on one subject.

In the first place, it is not a FAA investigation or report. The National Transportation Safety Board conducts accident investigations.

Secondly, this was a preliminary report which gives only the basic facts and makes no determination of cause and there was no determination that an autopilot malfunction was the cause. As reported, Johnny had spoken with the technician at the avionics shop and would not have ever intentionally engaged a malfunctioning autopilot in instrument condition.

The comments about hypoxia at 6100 feet are ludicrous. Anyone even short of breath at 6,100' probably couldn't even climb the steps into the King Ari with our assistance. That doesn't even take into consideration that the King Air is a pressurized airplane.

Spacial Disorientation? Perhaps, but I have heard from related sources that Johnny had recently been given an Instrument Proficiency Ride and the instructor was impressed with his hand flying ability under the hood.

Mechanical malfunction? Not likely but possible.
Medical incapacitation unrelated to hypoxia? Possible.
With the complete destruction of the airplane and no possibility of an autopsy. We will never know.

Yes, I'm a pilot, over 10,000 hours.
Yes, I am a Certified Instrument Flight Instructor.
Yes, I knew Johnny Morgan. It was a terrible loss.

Anonymous said...

I’m not a pilot and can’t make any comment about flying an aircraft but I can agree with @6:25. I knew Johnny, too, and it is a terrible loss. RIP Johnny

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