Monday, March 31, 2014

The Love Of Flying Requires Paying Attention To Detail....

Well guess what, it’s tax season, the dead line approaching in just two weeks. And you know what? I almost have it all done. At any rate it has stolen some of my attention from flight anomalies to getting the paperwork and money to the tax folks. It would be harder to write this blog from prison than from home.                      

So, back to my love of aviation. There still are a lot of landing gear accidents( LDGA). Everyday someone manages to damage a nose wheel  or forget to lower the gear. If you read the FAA accident reports, it is euphemistically called “gear collapsed”.  How hard is it to move that gear handle to the down position? Not hard at all, but it has to be in the pre landing protocol. Mooney pilots seem to like to forget to push the handle into the down position. Not sure why as I haven’t flown one for a long time. The nose wheel thing still seems to be due to a bad landing attitude (too much pitch down). Maybe some more practice emphasizing the flare would help.

The way to combat the (LDGA) is to plan ahead and follow the checklist meticulously. Use some pneumonic  A cute one is GUMPS. This stands for gas, undercarriage, mixture, pumps, switches.
You get the idea. Anything that works for you-the PILOT. But you must use it religiously. I remember always verifying the gear being down by saying “three in the green” on base, final and just before touching down.

 One last area I want to briefly discuss is the instrument  approach . Reading over the stats of when accidents occur, the approach phase stands out. In the approach phase I include everything between en route and landing. The five phases of flight are: take off, initial climb, en route, approach and landing. My goal is to alert the budding IFR pilot and remind those farther along about hazards to avoid, as well as to offer some advice how to stay ahead of the game.

I was going to take us on a simulated IFR flight into a major airport such as Chicago Midway. But as I find myself short of time, I will only touch on the important points , and plan to go into more detail at a later time. In a nutshell, it is necessary to really study the approach plate in great detail. Entry points, course headings and altitudes in particular are very key. One can’t just rely on the digital tools to do it all for the pilot. You must be prepared for all the eventualities such as holding, go arounds and missed approaches. Alternate airports also have to be chosen in advance. This latter point was discussed in an earlier Blog.

That’s it for now. The IRS is calling

Fly well and stay safe.

Friday, March 7, 2014

This is a short follow up to the article I wrote about the crash of a Bonanza in Telluride.

After reading more about the crash on the NTSB website I found this out.The weather was hardly condusive  to or safe for VFR type flight. There was a cloud cover up there and the area is surrounded by 14000 foot mountains. There was 1.5 miles visibility with broken clouds at 1000 feet and overcast at 1400 ft.

So all I want to know is this. With no IFR plan filed and a very degraded performance capability, where are you going to go? Not the formula for a successful trip.

Take care and always consider all the factors and your options. Staying on the ground is an option one had better not forget.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Recent Crash Of A Debonair In The Mountains Around Telluride......

CRASH SITE – Rescuers are calling of the recovery mission for the Beechcraft Bonanza that crashed just west of Telluride Airport Sunday, Feb. 17, shortly after its 11:20 a.m. takeoff, “Due to snowpack and warming conditions crews at the crash site.” (Photo courtesy San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters)My latest blog failed to discuss one of the worst small plane accidents that recently occurred. On February 16 at 1130 hours a 1960 Beech Debonair N400DJ took off from Telluride (KTEX) at around 1130 hours. Weather was light snow with visibility 1 mile, the average temp about 38F.

The reason I’m writing about this sad event is that there are some important factors to discuss, such as the negative effects of altitude on aircraft performance. There were no survivors in this crash, all three experienced aviators died at the scene.

The main effect of altitude is the decrease in air density as the altitude increases. The principle effect on the typical internal combustion engine is to decrease engine power output with increasing altitude. ( Reference from Also the true airspeed of a stall increases at the rate of 2%/1000 feet. The indicated stall speed however remains unchanged. Very importantly, the rate of climb for a given airspeed decreases with altitude. This is what concerned me about this crash. The question being: could N400DJ climb fast enough to get around or over the surrounding terrain?

We may never know what brought these intrepid aviators down. I await the official NTSB report. I would have to wonder about engine performance and possible problems in that area.

In doing my reading, I also learned something about turboprops and jets and their problems with altitude. Apparently turboprops run into problems because of propeller efficiency and some jet types with their wing aerodynamics.

Before I sign off, I’ll tell you about a trip I made as a young and budding pilot in a Cessna 172 between Syracuse, NY (SYR) and Boston, MA (BOS). There were three fellow med students and I trying to go for a weekend break. Weather forecast so-so, VFR with clouds and minimal precip enroute. Temperatures were above freezing. Shortly after leaving SYR however, clouds started to appear. Scattered and low at first but as we kept going the cloud cover increased. As I was only VFR qualified, although I had some IFR training, I climbed above the clouds until I couldn’t get any higher. This was about 15,500 feet with no Oxygen aboard. We must have been in good shape as none of us passed out. Ouch! The airplane performance notably kept getting worse as we climbed higher. It felt light and a bit unstable. (Maybe some of that was due to light hypoxia on my part.) Finally when we got well past Albany (ALB) the clouds began to lessen. There were breaks that allowed us to see the ground, and as we passed Worcester, we could see Boston in the distance. All I can say is that we made it, and were damn lucky and awfully glad to put our feet on the ground when we landed.

So be aware of the limitations that may impact on your plane at higher altitudes. Check your flight manuals for performance data that applies.

Happy flying fellow pilots. May you fly high, fast and upright.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

As February Draws To A Close And March Beckons.....

Picture of The image of airplane on the snow-covered airport  
As February draws to a close and March beckons, I realize that it is time to publish another article for the blog. Nothing really has happened to stimulate a dramatic response from yours truly, so I’ll reflect on some rather mundane recent happenings as listed on the FAA accident reporting site.

How about the oft-mentioned gear-up landing? In this last week, there were five such incidents. They involved various types, including a sophisticated (and very expensive) Pilatus PC-12, two Pipers, a Cessna 172 a Mooney M20 and a Beech 35. That comprises quite a cross section of pilot skills (one wonders sometimes??).
The next series of accidents involved the landing or taxiing phases, some with landing gear involvement as well. For example: a Cessna170 landed and veered off the runway, two Cessna 172’s landed and struck snowbanks, one also damaging the landing gear; a Pa-46 (expensive) struck a snowbank that caused the nose wheel to collapse. Just three more. A Commander 114 slid off the runway after landing, another Bonanza had a “gear collapse” (usually a late activation of the gear handle) and finally a Cessna 421 clipped a truck with a wing tip while taxiing. These are all worth mentioning just to make the point that you’ve got to pay attention to what you are doing, especially during the landing phase of flight. Winter flying adds another layer of potential problems that must be anticipated and dealt with as they occur. An example follows.

Thinking about winter flying challenges reminds me of a winter about ten years ago here in Charlotte, NC. A week earlier I had flown in to Monroe airport (KEQY) in my Cessna 340 (N340JC), a pressurized, fully deiced twin. As Friday came and it was time to return to eastern North Carolina, the weather turned bad. There had been a cold front passage with some slushy snow and ice which for sure was going to be coating N340JC. The problem was that I couldn’t get into the hangar when I arrived as it was full, so had to park out in the open on the ramp. As a result the plane was going to be covered with a layer of frozen water/snow. Sure enough, when my future wife and I arrived at the FBO, the plane was coated from nose to tail with a white mix. We set about banging, scraping and cursing (non-productive). Finally after an hour or so the plane looked like it could fly. The control surfaces were clear, most of the ice/snow was off of the wings, tail with only a bit left on the top of the fuselage. I determined it safe to fly (if appropriate caution taken). As there was a very thin coating of ice on some of the wing I would have to use extra speed before lifting off. This would act as a safety factor to allow for a higher than normal stall speed. After a quick goodbye kiss I hopped in and started things going. As I taxied towards the departure end of the runway, I watched for snow collections or icy spots. None were seen, so far so good. The run-up went perfectly.  Before advancing the throttles I decided to add (empirically) 10 to 15 knots to normal take-off speed (usually 90 to 95 knots). This would be 100 to 105 knots. (Stall speed was 71 knots.)

As I advanced the throttles smoothly, everything seemed fine.  The engine acceleration was normal with the plane rapidly moving to 100 Knots. As I pulled back on the yoke, everything felt ok so I continued with the take-off. I noted that the thin layer of ice seen over some of the wing previously, rapidly disappeared. The remainder of the flight was uneventful, the weather excellent VFR.

The moral of the story: plan ahead particularly if things are atypical e.g. ice and snow. Have a plan and stick to it as long as it is working. In your plan include options for what to do if things don’t work out (plane feels mushy or sluggish). In the above case I would have terminated the take-off and taxied back to the ramp and pursued additional de-icing or considered renting a car and driven to my destination.

In summary: Don’t make dangerous unproven assumptions. Deal with the situation at hand as best you can. Always try and leave yourself an out.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Welcome To 2014, The Year To Fly Better

Welcome to 2014. We all made it to another year. So what’s new? You know what they say: ”Nothing New Under The Sun”. Well that may be true in general, but here is one specific that may be new to some of you younger pilots: Don’t Land On The Nosewheel. In a very recent listing on the FAA preliminary accident reports, there were THREE incidents of planes doing just that. They were a Cessna 310, a Bellanca/1419 and a Diamond/DA20. Other recent similar fiascos were: a Pa24 and a Lear Jet 24 (ouch). Another variety of this landing error was a prop strike in a Cessna 172. And don’t forget the biggie: the Southwest 737 at LaGuardia (LAG). This latter incident was rather horrific injuring passengers and causing major destruction of the front of the jet. I read that this plane was traveling at 133 knots with a downward pitch angle of 3 degrees as it hit the tarmac. That’s a lot of kinetic energy to dissipate in a few feet. The pilot flying must have had to force the plane down as it probably still wanted to fly.

I won’t attempt to write a treatise on how to land properly, but will just mention a few basics. The whole idea is to touch down on the main gear at the point when the plane loses its lift. This is somewhere around the Vso, stall speed with flaps and gear down. I don’t want to trivialize the landing process. It is probably the hardest thing for a new pilot to learn. It is the culmination  of a proper approach and the attainment of a proper landing attitude right before touchdown. If one really wants to learn how to land one should fly a tail dragger like Piper J-3. This most basic of planes won’t let you get away with nonsense. If you don’t do it right it will bite you.

In keeping with landing at the approach end of the runway, literally on the numbers, I will bore you with a bit of reminiscence.  As I was getting used to flying a new model of twin ( I had gone from a Beech Baron to a Cessna 340), I decided to practice some take offs and landings. The key thing to making a good landing is to approach the runway properly. That means proper speed, approach angle and altitude. The latter is key as you really can’t force a plane down if too high or too fast. An important part of the approach to land is to pick a spot where you will plant the main gear. I chose the numbers at the approach end of the runway. This takes some planning and coordination, and is excellent practice. Things that can really challenge one are cross winds and gusty winds. Anyhow, after about half a dozen landings and take offs, I began to feel much more confident about my flying the 340. Next I want to look at how one manages to land at the wrong airport.

What causes me concern are the two recent landings at the wrong airport, by supposedly very competent professional ATP’s. I still can’t fully understand how one lands at the wrong airport in a plane outfitted with all the latest electronic gadgets. On one of the large screens or monitors in front of the pilots there certainly has to be a map with all the pertinent details of the area airports. In the days I flew the A-36 with a Garmin GPS, there was a small screen with more than enough data to know exactly where everything is, including the AIRPORT of destination. To refresh my memory, I just looked at a demo of the Garmin 430. It showed how one gets vectored to the airport and to fly the ILS. The moving map display clearly shows the pilot where to go, and if coupled to the autopilot, will do it for you.*

So fellow pilots and onlookers. No excuse for landing at the wrong airport, none at all.
Have a safe and fun 2014.

*Google: Flying the Garmin 430 GPS and surf around a bit.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Christmas Flight......

Piper PA-31-310 Navajo As the end of the year approaches, it is time to reflect on the years activities, good and bad. Since most of what I write about, involves the latter, that’s where I’ll start. Some of the egregious happenings still stand out. Such as professional pilots landing at the wrong airport in a 747, or a flight crew of three or four professionals “forgetting “ how the auto-land really works. The first resulted in embarrassment, the second fiasco in some deaths, injuries and a 777 destroyed. Ouch!
To the good, I will have to reminisce a bit as I think back on Christmas season related flights. The year was 1989, a period of time when I did a lot of charter piloting of freight and passengers in Vermont. As I was often a standby “on call” pilot for the charter operator I flew for, this Christmas Eve I received a special request. A premature infant born in Burlington was in trouble and needed to be transferred to Boston Children’s Hospital. I agreed to take the trip. This normally took a bit over 60 minutes in a Piper Navajo. The largest model, the Chieftain, a Pa-350 (N30SC) would be needed to accommodate the patient in a special crib, a nurse and assistant. A quick check of the weather promised a fairly typical IFR winter trip. Strong NW winds, some snow, light icing probable and very cold.

Before I hopped in the car and drove the 20 minutes to the airport, I quickly filed an IFR flight plan adding a request for the prefix Medevac, indicating the seriousness of the flight and the need for priority handling. Routing was Burlington (BTV) direct Manchester (MHT) then to Lawrence (LWM) and direct Boston. I filed for 9000 feet, as any higher would require that supplemental oxygen be used by the pilot and passengers. At the same time I filed the return trip, estimating departure time at 0400 UTC* (11PM) for that leg. *This used to be Zulu or just Z.

The ambulance arrived at about 0230 UTC (930PM), tiny baby ensconced within the incubator, accompanied by a neo-natal nurse and aide. The plane was pulled out of the heated hangar into the sub-zero cold. As I had already done the necessary pre-flight, the passengers were quickly loaded into the plane and me into the pilot’s seat. Engine start went smoothly and I quickly called for my IFR clearance. It was called back to us and I was cleared to taxi to runway 15, which would point us in the right direction towards Boston, saving us some time. Once cleared for take-off we were switched to departure frequency and cleared on course. Leaving 6000 feet departure control told me to contact Boston center.

 This was a route I had flown often, so I could anticipate what to expect. What was new was the call sign, the prefix: Medevac. We reached Manchester in about 30 minutes and were cleared to the Lawrence VOR and to descend to 6000 feet. As we descended, I tuned into the Boston ATIS for the current weather and active approaches. Before reaching (LWM) we were cleared to 3000 feet and told to expect ILS 4R as the winds were gusting  up to20 knots out of the north. The reported weather was: ceiling 900 feet with 1 ½ mile visibility, with blowing snow. I had already taken the Boston approach plates out of the Jeppesen loose leaf binder and placed the ILS 4 R approach plate on my clipboard. Once on the Boston approach frequency I received vectors for the 4R approach ceiling 900 ft.  Once on the inbound localizer and on glide path, we broke out of the clouds at 950 feet with the runway in sight.

The landing went fine and we were cleared to the general aviation ramp, where an ambulance was waiting. I said goodbye to my passengers, wishing the newborn well, and headed to the coffee machine for a quick brew. The trip back to BTV was uneventful.On reflection, I felt this had been a satisfying, rewarding flight, a tiny person helped. A job well done.

Have a good Christmas and a Happy and Safe New Year.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

There Is A Recent Accident......

There is a recent accident/incident that I would like to present and discuss.  I believe there are important lessons that the general aviation pilot can learn from it. The accident is related to the switch from basic round dial instruments to the new format: i.e. the glass cockpit-digital format. I have to admit to having only flown the older systems. In the past I have discussed the necessity for at least having some basic (round dial) back up, so I won’t go there again now. But what is a new thing, the dependence on not only all digital instruments but also the fully automated flight. My interest in this was sparked by a recent headline in my local newspaper  the Charlotte Observer, dated November 19,2013. The title As automation increases, pilots may lose flying skills. Wow, you must be kidding right? Hardly! Only two days ago a Boeing 747-400 cargo plane, not only landed at the wrong airport, but admitted to the tower at another field (the intended destination) that they didn’t know where they were.

I ask myself how is that possible? To help answer this and learn more about the subject I googled  Boeing 747-400 cockpit, and got some wonderful pictures and discussions. There is so much information available from all the cockpit displays that it is hard to imagine anyone getting lost or confused as to where they are. The pilots of this flight landed at a wrong airport that had an ILS that the pilots may have locked on. Great that they were able to land there, but the field was some 3000 feet shorter than their intended one.  Special provisions had to be made so that they could take-off again (offloading fuel and cargo). Wow, that is a serious and dangerous goof.

Apparently the entire flight data can be loaded digitally via a disc or some other way, and the pilots never have to enter any data or look at a map. Sounds great doesn’t it? But wouldn’t common sense require one to at least look at the entered data, readily available on one of many data screens? I mean if you are headed some thousand or more miles to land at a strange airport, it would be smart to look over the airport and approach data ahead of time. So, the warning is against complacency and lack of oversight by pilots relying almost totally on automation. Pilots beware. The next step will be pilotless airliners etc!

Writing about flying long distances to a strange field and landing under low IFR conditions, takes me back to trips I made while flying charters in Beech 58 and Piper Navajos, up north while based in Vermont. Before any of these flights, I would look carefully at the weather, both actual and forecast. Figure the time and required fuel, allowing for missed approaches and an alternate landing site. When looking at alternate landing sites along the way, think what would be available in case of an emergency such as engine problems, weather or passenger illness etc. Now that wasn’t automated, it was done by me, the responsible pilot. This not only put me fully into the information loop, but also primed my brain for eventualities that might come up.

So, in summary. You the PIC (pilot in command) have a lot of responsibility.  Whether on auto-pilot or manual mode, the safe operation of your plane depends on your good judgment. An error such as happens.landing at the wrong airport or worse, is yours to deal with. You really can’t blame it on the auto-pilot.

When sitting in the left seat, make sure that you are in control and fully accountable for all that