Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Ride I Would Never Forget...........

Thinking over what to write my next blog doesn’t immediately yield a topic. After all, there are only so many  subjects to consider.  So I have decided just to relate one or the other of my “flying adventures”.

One that comes to mind goes back to my time as a second lieutenant in the Army Transportation Corps. Always gung-ho to hop aboard any flying machine that would take me, I hitched a ride on a small chopper I never would forget. Arriving at Felker Army Airfield on Fort Eustis, I noted a pilot walking out to his helicopter and quickly tagged along side. He invited me, a young gung-ho 2nd Lieutenant to hop in. I gleefully did, sitting to the left of the pilot.Strapping in tightly, I surveyed the open doorway a bit anxiously. No doors on either side. The seat and shoulder belts had better be strong. They were. The engine noisily revved up and we were shortly up and off. I remember the ride as choppy and exciting. We cruised around at  below 1000 feet surveying the base and surroundings. All of a sudden there was a loud “pop” and the pilot yelled into the headset “lean out and see if we are on fire”. I tried to look around , while seated tightly down. The pilot yelled “get out and look in back”. He was expecting me to step out on the landing structure and have a look. No way was I about to do that. I was scared! He read my hesitance correctly and burst out laughing. Very funny I thought. We headed back after that, and I happily got out, never to ask another chopper pilot for a ride.

As far as aviation accidents and mistakes go, nothing really new. Every day I read about gear up landings, taxiing mishaps and various gear problems. The solution to many is just proper training, maintenance and practice, practice and more practice.

So from Charleston, SC, I wish everyone safe and happy flying.

P.S. Comments welcome!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Beware When Hand Propping.................

Reading about a “hand propping” accident involving a Pa-18, on the FAA accident site brought back some good old memories, fortunately no bad ones. In my early flying years, I had the opportunity to fly a Pa-18 (Piper Cub). It was bare bones. No electrical system. That’s right, no lights or radio. Better have a flashlight aboard and plenty of batteries. One thing I learned early in the game, was to tie the tail down when hand propping. If not, well say bye-bye and run fast and catch up or else. There were some other things I did as well. I looped the seat belt around the control stick to apply “up” pressure on the elevator. Made sure the throttle was just barely “cracked” open to help prevent an engine runaway. Usually the engine would start on the second pull after the initial propping to prime things. Once started, with chocks still in place, run back and untie the tail. Hold on to the fuselage as you go, pull the chock and hop in. Yes it did take some coordination, but in those days I was able to.

Just to expand on the type accident that can happen, I’ll mention a few I just read about. The first one makes the skin on the back of my neck crinkle, it’s so scary. While refueling their tail dragger, apparently with the engine running, the plane taxied away and smashed into several other planes. Ouch! Two days later, at another field, a C-170 also being hand propped, went off on its own into nearby planes and stopping only after ramming into the hangar. That’s a lot of money to waste because of forgetting to do such an easy thing. Money is one thing, but what about personal injury?  

While on the poor piloting thing, here are some recent ones. On the FAA site of 16 March there were three nose wheel collapses on landing, listed, one after the other, on three different aircraft types. They were a Commander 114, a C-172 and a C-421, three very different birds indeed. Reasons are generally not given on the site, so one must speculate. I have to guess that just maybe they landed too hard and fast on the nose wheel, rather than on the mains. Poor maintenance of course may be a factor.

Finally there were four “off the runway” landings listed on the 17 March 15 FAA site. All very different birds. The first was a Grumman 164 that force landed “short”. Next was M-20k, “landing off the runway”. No reason given. Then a C-340 (plane dear to my heart), landed long, stopping in the overrun in a damaged condition. I have to mention that airport had a 4800 foot runway, more than enough length for that type plane. Finally, a lightweight type sport plane, landed off the runway and flipped over. Remember that excess speed demands excess braking and a longer distance than may be available. Also, many smaller planes, types I have flown, have limited braking available.

The moral of all this is to get recurrent training at least annually. Do very thorough pre-flights, particularly looking over the landing gear and brakes, getting professional opinion when needed. When practicing, be critical and  get check rides often.

P.S. Comments welcome!

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?)

P.S. Comments welcome!

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