Saturday, June 20, 2015

Recent Private Plane Accidents Are Rather.........




                                 
             Piper PA-28 -140 1966 Cherokee

Recent private plane accidents are rather “ho hum”. Yes, more of the same and boring. For example let me list some of the recent accidents. There were five “went off” the runway landings. Several with add ons like: into the mud, struck runway lights and/or struck prop. Two “force landed” in a field, one on a golf course. Two “nosed over” on landing and another flipped over.  That was just in three days. Having landed safely many hundreds of times in all sorts of planes, I just can’t imagine doing all this nonsense. 

I read an interesting article: ”Why Private Planes are Nearly as Deadly as Cars” in Life Science dated February 5, 2015. Here some of the main points:
1.      Accident rates essentially unchanged over past decade.
2.      2010 NTSB report : 1 death every 100,000 flight hours. While accident and
fatalities are down in corporate and business jet flights, Accident rate in personal flights increased by 20% in past decade and fatality rates are up by 25%.
3.      Comparing auto and plane deaths, it is 19 times more dangerous stepping into a private plane.
4.      Why do general aviation planes crash?
a.      The number 1 reason is Loss of Control.
b.      Number 2 reason is flight into IFR conditions by those untrained in instrument flight. This frequently results in fatalities.
5.      A reason why so many accidents is suggested by the author: recurrent training is required only every two years for private ticket holders. Long time for those who don’t fly often. (When I was flying commercially, I had a check ride every six months).
6.      According to the AOPA: twice a week a plane crashes because of running out of gas. That I consider is too dumb to discuss. I came close to it once early in my flight career. So I speak from experience.

But no one is perfect.  Please read below about an early misadventure of mine.  

I might as well fess up to that flight alluded to above. It occurred  in the mid to late sixties when I was in my second year of medical school. Three of my fellow students and yours truly had friends in Boston and wanted to visit them over a late fall weekend. So I made arrangements to rent a Piper 140, that was marginally IFR equipped, as was I the pilot, at the time. We headed east early on Saturday in good VFR. Strong westerly’s were blowing. Nice for part of the trip anyway. As we passed Albany, having taken off from Syracuse, we were slightly less than halfway there. So far so good. Great ground speed, but not so weather wise. 

Clouds started forming, but we were still VFR. As we approached Worcester, the picture got a bit scary. The weather there included some isolated snow showers with some reduction in visibility. I called flight service to get the latest Boston weather. Ouch! it was marginal VFR with snow and forecast to get worse, which it did. As I didn’t feel I had the skills to handle serious IFR weather, I decided we better head back west and look for a place to land an reevaluate things. But I hadn’t considered the strong westerly’s, now our enemy as a headwind. Checking the fuel gauges we had about half tanks or slightly better. But with the strong headwinds our ground speed really dropped. Calculating things, I was worried that our fuel supply would be inadequate. I was hoping to land back along our return route but couldn’t. It all was turning IFR. I made the decision to push on, leaning the engine as much as possible to minimize fuel burn. Long story short. We landed back at Syracuse with little better than fumes in the tanks. That was something I vowed never to repeat. A poor piloting job was offset by help from the good fairy, something you can't count on. After that it never did happen again.


So fellow pilots. Never plan a trip so that your fuel reserves will be challenged . The good fairy may not be around.






Wednesday, May 27, 2015

After Having Work Done On Your Plane Have The Mechanic Fly On The First Flight....

It's time to write another blog.  What to choose as a topic?When talking with my wife this morning, this topic came up. What about some maintenance horror stories. Yes, I've had a few, as most pilots that fly a lot probably have too.

Early in my flying career, with a fresh pilots license, this happened. I was renting a Cherokee 140 for a short local hop out of Syracuse. Lovely day, CAVU only a few scattered clouds at 9500 feet. Did a quick pre-flight (too quick). Hopped in and cranked it up. Everything looked good, so off I went. Headed south at 3500 feet, doing some light air work on the way. Just a few steep turns and a couple of 360's. Then wham, all of a sudden some strange sounds coming in from the engine compartment. 
Checking the gages, all looked o.k. Headed back to the airport, intermittent banging sounds, not too loud persist. An expedited landing clearance was granted. Taxiing to the FBO no more noises. After shut down, popped the engine compartment doors open to find a large socket wrench lying free under the engine. Hmmm. How well did I do my pre-flight anyway?

That is just one of several such occurrences until I finally owned  my planes. Which reminds me of some very sage advice given by an instructor pilot and friend years ago. His rule with regards to plane maintenance was this: He who fixes it will accompany the pilot on the first flight made after the work is finished. Now that is an incentive to do careful work.


Finally I will relate another event I experienced that violated this rule. I had a B-55 Baron for some time and wanted to sell it and move on to another plane. Got an interested party in Indiana willing to pay the asking price. I just had a rebuilt engine installed a few days prior planned departure. Did a quick check ride. Everything seemed all right. So off I went on this 3 to 4 hour flight. Nothing remarkable in the air, all systems seemed o.k. But upon landing and on the taxi to the terminal I noted something dripping from the left engine. After shut-down there was a large oil puddle under the engine, unmistakable for a leak. Well the proposed new owner and his mechanic loved it. Long story short. I had to catch an airliner back to Syracuse, where I had a work commitment. We settled for $5000 less then the "agreed upon" price.


The moral offered by my loyal friend-mechanic had not been followed, and it cost me.

So here is my rule. 

When ever a plane has significant maintenance, have the mechanic go on the first flight.  

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.

*www.AviationSafetyMagazine.com (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.

*www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/handbooks_manuals/aircraft/amt_airframe_handbook/media/ama_Ch13.pdf

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