Friday, February 27, 2015

Don't Have A Bad Day, So Don't Land On the Nose Wheel.....

If you touch down on the nose wheel first, you have a good chance of causing serious damage. Depending on factors such as speed and weight, the nose gear might collapse and then who knows what. The prop will be damaged, probably the engine and fuselage. You certainly will have a bad day.

Reading in Aviation Safety* that 40% of accidents are landing gear related, would help explain why I see it mentioned so often. I couldn’t find the stats on how many “bad” landings were of the nose wheel type. But I think way too many. Causes include: poor training, excess speed, short fields etc. When a pilot comes in high and fast and tries to force the landing, that’s the setting for gear and particularly nose wheel damage. Another bad scenario can occur when a stiff cross wind is present. Trying to force a plane, particularly a high wing type like a 150 or a 172, can be the setting for serious gear trouble.That’s when one reads about gear breakages, flips or rolls or worse. The only way to prevent these type of accidents is to train properly, using an instructor when needed.

I have a flight in my first log book, that I’m not proud of. I was flying a Cessna single, either a 172 or a 182, into Nedrow Airpark, NY38. This was a 2100 foot strip of asphalt, aligned 3/21, with 50 foot trees at the north end. I was a relatively low time private pilot, in my first year of medical school in nearby Syracuse. I had arranged to meet an old friend there and was anxious to get together. The wind was out of the southwest and a bit gusty so I decided on a runway 21 landing. The only problem was a 50 foot tree at the north end . Instead of doing a trial pattern of this small field, I rushed things a bit. Worried about the trees at the north  end I came in a bit high, but also slightly fast. The combination was disastrous. At midfield I was just barely able to touch down. I “stood” on the brakes, but I couldn’t slow the plane enough to prevent it from going over the far end into a tree, that did stop me. I was lucky and had no serious injury, just a bruise. The plane however received serious damage to engine  fuselage, and nose gear. I was very glad it was insured.

I am happy to say that was my only airplane accident, other than slightly scratching the outer wing tip of a plane while taxiing. So, fellow pilots, practice your landings often, and pay particular attention to speed and whether it is a two or three wheel affair. If it is a three wheeler, be gentle on the nose wheel  or be prepared for a big bill.

* (Why can’t we land?)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Flying A J-3 Can Be Loads Of Fun, But Once In A While Things Can Go Wrong....

Private HB-OCU aircraft at AmbriPreparing for writing the next blog is an interesting task (most of the time). Lately I have been made aware of so many accidents related either to the take-off or landing phases of flight, that I started to read about the landing and take-off processes.* This a wonderfully written article, with many superb illustrations, both diagrammatic and photographic. Not only are details of the various types of gear given, but also the problems related to the take-off and landing processes and their relationship to the landing gear.

The illustrations are just fabulous. Details of the simplest brake systems, with just one disc rotor to multiple disc systems used on large aircraft. Discussions include complicated things as anti-skid systems for airliners, not something a small plane pilot need worry about. But what is valuable is the discussion  of the testing of brakes and brake systems for small and large planes. This includes  checking  brake fluid and the subsequent addition of fluid if more is needed. The replacement of brake linings is covered, as well as brake adjustment.

Finally, tires are fully discussed. This includes the various types, as well as inflation procedures and pressures. Complete assessment of aircraft tires is covered as well as “how to do it”. This includes tire inflation, tread inspections and repairs if needed. The article ends with how to protect your airplanes tires during taxiing, take-off and landing.

In summary:  This article is excellent reading for any pilot, but especially for those doing some of their own maintenance

This all brings to mind an incident from years ago when I was happily and nonchalantly flying around the Boston area in an old J-3 Cub. The weather was warm and the side window flaps were up, offering the best visibility of everything out there and wonderful “air conditioning”. As I had been flying for about an hour, and the fuel dip stick was getting low, I decided to head back to Tew- Mac field, North of Boston. (This airfield has since been closed.)  As I was looking down at something of interest on the ground, three hundred feet below, I happened to see something funny on the top of the right tire. There seemed to be a cut in the tire, which looked like a small flap of rubber.  Oh-oh I said to myself and decided that the landing had better be gentle. A blow out would not be fun, and would probably lead to an unplanned 360 degree turn and possible roll over. I decided to land as gently as possible on the right main and hope for the best. Well, happily it turned out fine. The tire didn’t go flat and was replaced.

So, pay attention to your landing gear and all associated systems.  Do this both in pre-flight and post-flight. If you can do so while in flight, so much the better. Have fun up there, but do look around.


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Have A Happy And Safe 2015, Fly Right......

    Well it’s New Year’s Eve and all goes well, unless you are one of those “pilots” I have been reading about on the FAA accident reporting site. I really do wonder what makes those pilots tick that make it to the internet site. Why don’t you read it for yourself and think about it?

Here are some examples of their doings:
                Gear up landing,
                Damaged nose wheel on landing,
                “Gear collapses upon landing” or oops I’ll push the handle
    down now and HOPE for the best,
                Damaged landing gear on hitting runway or taxiway lights,
                Wing damaged as hit other plane or hangar etc.,
                Crashed on take-off due to engine failure (or oops should
    have done proper pre takeoff run up),
                Gear damaged due to drifting off runway or taxiway,
 And so on, the list almost endless.

Have a Happy and a safe New Year. If you are planning to fly, please stay off the FAA accident reporting sites.

See you in 2015

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Flying An All Digital Glass Cockpit You Had Better Have Some Analog Back Up.........

As it is approaching Christmas, I am going to offer a present early, an abbreviated blog. Do I hear you cheering out there? Well, here goes. This is aimed at you digital types, with all glass cockpits. In case you missed it, all glass.  Do you have any back-up analog instruments? No. Well here is why you need them if you do any IFR flying in real weather conditions.  Let us suppose that you are on an ILS  instrument approach with a visibility of ½ mile and a ceiling of 200 to 300 feet. I’ve been there many times and it not only requires precision, but an alternative option. The option to quit the approach if it is not working out, for whatever reason.  What if at the last few feet of your descent, the digital (glass) system fails? Yes, just goes blank. If you have your analog gauges insight and working, you should be able to institute a missed approach.

Why am I going there? Because in reviewing  some glass cockpit configurations, I fail to see a complete or good partial analog back-up system. At the very least there should be an airspeed indicator, artificial horizon and altimeter. What about compass heading, rate of climb/descent etc? I think it could get pretty hairy quickly, especially if you are not practiced in this kind of situation.

Well that reminds me of a trip I had with my boss, and working associate in the company Piper Pa-34 Seneca.  This was all analog back in the mid 70’s. Nice planes as long as both fans were going and if you weren’t in a hurry. I was flying in the right seat, my boss was chief pilot in the left. We were getting vectored  for an ILS approach to runway 28 or 24 at Cleveland’s Hopkins,not sure which at this time. All at once my associate asks me to take over and fly the approach. I was shocked when he admitted that he hadn’t obtained his IFR ticket yet, something I hadn’t known. As I was legal and up to date, I accepted the offer. There was a problem in that I didn’t have a complete set of gauges in front of me and had to look at his for some data. The thing that I remember was craning my neck and struggling to see the ILS needle. Well, anyhow it turned out OK, with us breaking out at about 350 feet above the ground, with the runway barely in sight. The landing was good and we taxied to the gate and shut down all systems. That night I had an extra brew.

The moral here is that you never know when a problem will occur. The better prepared you are, the better you can handle the unexpected.

Have a Merry Christmas,  a Happy Hanukkah or whatever you celebrate, and a Happy New Year.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What Are Your Chances Of Getting Struck By Lightning?,,,,,,,,,

In chatting with my son the other day, on his return from another across the globe business trip, he related the following. As his huge four engine Airbus A340 was somewhere in the pre-landing phase the left outboard engine was struck by a bolt of lightning. It was accompanied by a loud bang and lots of smoke. The plane shook and shuddered but otherwise seemed ok. The passengers weren’t however, mostly scared out of their wits. After hearing about this, I decided to do some reading on the subject and write about it here. Fortunately my son’s plane landed safely with no obvious damage.

Apparently getting struck by lightning is a relative rarity. I saw one prediction of one strike in 3000 hours of flight. This was most likely for commercial, airline types, not GA (general aviation) pilots. So where is a GA pilot most likely to encounter a bolt of lightning? According to an article in Av Wx Workshops, “about 90 percent of lightning strikes to aircraft are thought to be initiated by the presence of the aircraft itself”. This would imply nearness to a thunderstorm. To make things a bit scarier (and confused), the article continues: “that 40 percent of all discharges involving aircraft occurred in areas where no thunderstorms were reported.” That reminds me of one of my flights over W. Virginia at 10,000ft. We were in the clear in relatively smooth air, when all of a sudden there was a loud bang, the plane shook violently and we dropped 500 feet with the autopilot disconnected. Now they go on to say that most of the induced lightning discharges occur at temperatures of +5C to -10C, with the highest number of strikes right at 0C. Also, most aircraft induced strikes occur between 10,000 and 16,000 feet MSL. As well, a large number of strikes occur within the clouds, and within precipitation and in-cloud turbulence,*

Another article goes on to clarify things a bit more. They state that the probability of a lightning strike in a thunderstorm increases with altitude (as above). Also that during penetration of thunderstorms at low altitudes, lightning strikes were found to occur in areas of moderate turbulence at the edge of and within large downdrafts.**

Just a bit on damage caused by lightning strikes. Direct effects seem to be caused by electric current flowing through the aircraft skin. Areas that are hit seem to experience extreme heating, with resultant burning and melting damage. Indirect effects seem to be aimed at sensitive areas such as avionics, which are damaged by transient electric pulses and strong magnetic fields. Therefore, unless avionics are properly shielded, they are easily damaged by these indirect lightning effects. Another reference source states that “aircraft incorporating lightning and EMI (electromagnetic) protection have had a significantly lower percentage of electrical failures and interference caused by lightning strikes.***

So try and stay away from areas at risk for lightning discharges. This requires weather familiarity, good planning, use of radar when available and luck.

Happy Thanksgiving.

*AV WX Workshops August 24, 2009
** Jack D. Chapdelaine-P-static testing-Electrostaic interference consultant
***Flight Safety Foundation-When Lightning Strikes

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Please Stay On The Runway.......

After reading over this week’s accidents on the daily FAA accident reports, it again impresses me how many of these involved the runway environment. By this I mean simple taxiing , take-off or landing.  

Now I can understand having a landing incident, as this is the most difficult phase of basic flight. But taxiing is another story. Really, how difficult can it be to keep a small plane, especially with a nose wheel, moving in a straight line? Now, I’m not talking about taxiing during a hurricane or tornado, just normal mild to moderate winds. Ok, I’ll give a little on a 20 to 30 knot crosswind, especially in a high wing plane like a C-150. But under usual conditions there shouldn’t be a major challenge. Remember to move the control wheel or stick so as to drop the wing that is encountering a quartering frontal wind. This will help keep the plane from wildly veering into the wind. Also, keep a light pressure on the brakes to help keep the plane straight down the taxi-way. Also the rudder will help keep one straight if applied to offset the turning force of the wind. That means applying some left rudder when the winds are from the right side.

This same technique applies to landing, although it is a bit more complex, so I won’t go any further on that now.

Now I was struck by how many accidents involved landing a plane and failing to keep the plane
on the runway. Several went off into the grass without apparently much damage. But some managed to get mired in mud, while others turned over or bent some structural parts. One managed to strike a building, and two others rammed into fences. That is just poor flying ability and can get rather expensive, or worse involve serious or fatal injury. One in particular must have dampened the pilot’s enthusiasm for piloting, as they ended up in a pond.

Reflecting on some of my experiences brings up two examples of what I’m writing about. Early in my flying career, I was piloting a tail dragger on a cross country trip. When I got to the first airport there was a strong wind on the order of 15 to 20 knots in a direct cross wind.  I lined up on the runway but was dismayed to find it almost impossible to hold the plane in line with the runway. I tried to compensate for the cross wind but was unable to keep the plane in line with the runway. I had to give up after two attempts and head for the next airport.

One other comes to mind. I was flying a Beech B-55 Baron in the New England region and needed to land at a field in Rhode Island. The wind was strong but fortunately right down the runway. After landing without a problem, I noted that our speed dropped much faster than usual. Taxiing was no problem. After shutting things down I tried to open the cabin door which was facing into the wind. I could hardly muster enough force to open the door. Getting out on the wing was scary too. I found out later the wind had been over 50 knots. If that had been a crosswind, I couldn’t have landed there.

So always keep the wind in mind when either taxiing, taking-off or landing. It can either be helpful or a major problem. So learn to deal with it.

Happy Flying and watch out for the Goblins.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Hypoxia. A Condition To Avoid At All Costs.......

Oxygen in aviation
In revisiting the recent crash/disappearance of an almost new TBM900 many questions arise.
Perhaps the most cogent, why was there no  perception of hypoxia/anoxia on the part of the pilot? After reviewing communications between the pilot and ATC, there never was a mention of a loss of cabin pressure, which leads to hypoxia etc.  

An important question to answer is: why the pilot did not acknowledge any of the indications of a high cabin altitude that should have been available on his instrument panel? His actions indirectly confirm that he didn’t consider anoxia an immediate threat. Was all the low cabin oxygen detection equipment working properly?

A normal response by a trained, experienced pilot as he was, would have been: declaration of an emergency and extremely rapid descent to a lower altitude such as 10000 feet. Therefore one might conclude that normal thought processes were compromised. This could have been secondary to some degree of hypoxia. According to Harrison et al, writing in Principles of Internal Medicine: “When hypoxia is general, all parts of the body may suffer some impairment of function, but those parts which are most sensitive to the effects of hypoxia give rise to symptoms which dominate the clinical picture. The changes in the Central Nervous System are especially important, and here the higher centers are most sensitive. Acute hypoxia, therefore, produces impaired judgment, motor incoordination and a clinical picture closely resembling acute alcoholism.”

I remember well  an emergency decent that I  experienced as a passenger riding in the cockpit of an FAA Boeing 727 out of Oklahoma City in 1997. I was riding “up front” as a passenger while doing a summer internship at The Aero-Medical Institute. We were at approximately 30,000 feet, when the Captain announced loss of pressurization. There was a lot of hissing, oxygen masks dropped like flies and we all struggled to place the masks on correctly as rapidly as possible. The pilot advised us all through the intercom:” loss of cabin pressure, put on masks”. The quick to don masks were on the flight crew and me in seconds. That is all the time one has, in reality, before symptoms of hypoxia will appear. The actual time depends to a great deal on the altitude the decompression occurs.

The pilot deployed everything he could in seconds to get us down rapidly. First the throttles retarded. Then flaps, spoilers and gear deployed, essentially simultaneously. And we were headed down at more than 10,000 feet per minute in a continuous series of steep turns. I don’t know the actual time, as I was holding on for dear life. Finally when we reached about 10,000 feet  things slowed down. The loose papers were gathered up and we could start to take off our masks. It was a very valuable lesson for any pilot to experience.  I had been through a simulated decompression in the training area a few days previous to the flight. So I was somewhat prepared, although the physical effects of all the actions of the rapidly descending, corkscrewing airplane are hard to describe, and so much more dramatic than in the simulator.

I had one other altitude adventure in the old days. As a fairly newly licensed pilot, I was headed to Boston from Syracuse in an older Cessna 182. As I was only licensed for VFR flight, I had to plan to avoid the clouds, which were forecast to be broken along the route. By the time I was halfway to Albany, the clouds began to thicken. I had to decide whether to keep on going or keep dropping lower to get under the developing cloud layer, or turn back. I decided to keep going and therefore began to climb to get on top. That climb continued until I was well past Albany and ended up at 15,500 feet. Although I knew about hypoxia, I never had really experienced it. That was going to change on this flight. I noted that my breathing rate had increased, and that I had developed a slight headache. My ability to function seemed ok though. But I knew that I really couldn’t plan on going any higher. I probably had also reached the service ceiling of the bird I was flying anyway. If I had to continue much longer at 15,500 feet I decided that I would have to declare an emergency and do an IFR descent as I had no Oxygen aboard. Fortunately as I reached for the microphone, I noted that the clouds below starting to thin, with glimpses of the ground. I immediately started to descend and was able to land outside Boston at Hanscom Field under VFR conditions. That trip was a major stimulus for my continuing with my IFR training and getting my ticket.

In summary. Hypoxia is a very real insidious hazard that threatens every pilot. At the earliest sign of it, quickly put on your readily available O2 mask if available. If not proceed to an immediate lower altitude if possible and declare an emergency.

Happy, safe clear headed flying.

Reference: See FAR 91.211 Which goes further into anoxia and when supplemental Oxygen is to be used.