Early in 2011, 58-year-old aerial application pilot Steve Allen was spreading winter wheat for a farm in Northern California with his single-engine Rockwell S-2R aircraft. Allen, a veteran agricultural pilot with over 26,000 hours and an accident- and incident-free record, flew into a practically invisible meteorological evaluation tower (MET) made of thin galvanized steel. The tower was unlit, unmarked, and unknown to Allen and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Towers under 200 feet do not need to be registered with or reported to the FAA or lighted in any way, and this tower was inches below the 200 foot mark. By keeping these METs under 200 feet, the wind energy entrepreneurs behind them save money and time by avoiding federal formalities while still scoping out sites for potential wind farms. While these towers do not pose a threat to standard general aviation or commercial aircraft, they are invisible dangers to aerial application pilots.
This September, the Allen family received a $6.7 million wrongful death settlement for their loss. Many hope that the sizable settlement sends a message to the manufacturers of these meteorological evaluation towers, as well as the companies that employ their use, that these towers must be made visible to pilots despite a lack of federal regulation to do so.
Steve Allen was not the first pilot to suffer death or injury from an unmarked MET, and the NTSB has sent out numerous advisories regarding the hazards they pose to agricultural pilots. The Arizona aviation accident attorneys of Curry, Pearson & Wooten hope that this settlement sends an important message to the MET industry.