Monday, June 30, 2014

Looking Over The Latest FAA Accident List.......

Looking over the latest (June 30 ) FAA accident list, it is hard to wonder what some pilots are doing while at the controls. How do two pilots of different Cessna 172’s manage to “flip over” while taxiing? Why does the gear of a taxiing Mooney suddenly “collapse”? There are so many accidents like these that I can’t help but wonder who is minding the shop?

These type accidents seem to be in part due to distraction of the pilot from his/her main duty of being completely in charge. That means not being distracted by cell phone usage, talking to passengers or just not paying attention.

Now the fix for all of these dysfunctions might best be classified as getting more disciplined as “PIC” (pilot in charge). Sort of stepping up to the plate and acting as if really in charge and engaged. For the life of me I can’t understand how a pilot taxiing a Cessna 172 manages to “flip over”. Maybe if taxiing during a hurricane or tornado it’s possible, but how else?

Another frequent reported goof is landing with the gear up. I have discussed this before but here goes again. Establishing a reproducible routine is key. Whether flying a single or multi engine, it’s all the same. At some point in the approach to landing, the gear let down process has to be started. In good VFR the downwind leg is a good spot. On an IFR approach the outer marker, or other similar beacon should be used. As the pilot lets the gear down it should be correlated with a verbal phrase such as: gear down and locked (as correlated with the lights). The gear status should be checked at one or two more points, e.g. base leg on VFR approach etc. Again a verbal cognizance should be given as : down and locked.

Enough on that, as I have discussed the gear-up avoidance several other times. I will just venture briefly into the area of errors pilots make on both arrivals and departures. Lately I have been reading about crashes on take-off that baffle me. Unless there is a mechanical problem with the plane, take-ofs should be routine and uneventful. Again having some working private conversation with one’s self may help. For example on take-off, note the point of decision where you are committed to GO and say to yourself: going up, or something along that line. Just something to confirm what is happening. No surprises are welcome here. This philosophy can continue throughout the departure, and continue into the enroute portion of the flight.

The landing phase of flight  can also benefit from a verbal correlation with where one is. In part this may be done as one calls in: downwind for runway 31. Then one also has the gear down routine to follow. This should be carried out until just crossing the threshold of the runway.

Well that should give some of you pilots something to work on. I would be interested in other ideas along these lines.

Fly well and safely and stay away from the fireworks.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Many Of Those "Silly" Accidents That Are Happening To Pilots Could Be Prevented By.....

Lately I have been writing about what silly things seem to be “happening “ to pilots. Particularly, things that seem to be, at least in part, due to inattention by the pilot. You know what I’m talking about. For example, inadvertently straying off the taxiway or runway. Just look at today’s FAA accident list.* How does one “accidentally” leave the runway for the brush or taxi into another plane? Unless there is a definite mechanical cause, inattention or distraction almost has to be involved. Take for example, if one is taxiing and the plane suddenly veers one way or another, a quick response on the brakes and throttle usually should fix things. If not, why not?

I have been thinking back over my flight career trying to get some answers to all of this. It seems to point to this. I never remember having any “toys” available. Not anything but a simple cell phone. When for example taxiing to the active runway for departure, I would have my charts on my lap. These would include a taxiway diagram as well as all necessary departure information. No laptop or other digital thingamabob in sight. (I have to admit to not owning any). This allowed me to concentrate fully on the task at hand: safely handling the plane.

Thinking way back, going into the 1960’s, I remember well, spending many happy hours flying the aero club’s Piper J-3 Cub. This was north of Boston, flying out of Tew-Mac airport. A small 2000 foot, narrow paved runway, with planes parked close by. Flying a low horsepower uncomplicated tail dragger, is an ideal way for a low time pilot to learn about the principles of flight. The plane did not even have an electrical system aboard. Starting was accomplished like this. Tie the tail down. With the mags (magnetos) off pull the prop through a few times. Turn the mags on. Now standing in front of the plane, grab the prop and give it a quick pull. After it starts untie the tail rope and hop into the rear seat if flying alone and get set to taxi for take-off.

Ok, after this prelude, I’ll get to the main point of all this. There are no superfluous instruments on a J-3. Really only: airspeed, altimeter, turn and bank indicator, tachometer and compass, plus some primitive engine gages. Nothing in the above to really distract the beginner pilot from flying the plane. Once behind the controls with the engine running, all there is to do is pay attention to what’s outside, taxi for take-off, and shove the throttle forward when ready to go. From there on “feel” largely takes over. Due to the increased speed and resultant air streaming over the control surfaces, the plane comes “alive”. After a short roll down the runway, the plane almost jumps off the ground and we’re airborne. The fun starts just about right away. A time to think of only one thing: Flying the Plane.

Well, I got off a bit down memory lane, a pleasant ride for sure. But I hope you can appreciate my point about distractions for the pilot. Really there were none on the J-3. Just compare to the latest trainers out there now. In addition to all the basic aerodynamic gages, add: an electrical system, radios, GPS, anti-collision devices, etc. This is plus all the electronics in the pilot’s bag. I won’t even attempt to list those.

So to make my point, I have tried to show how much “stuff” has been added to the basic airplane. Some, if not all are necessary in today’s flight environment. But the pilot must not allow these data sources to distract him/her from the basic task of flying and controlling the airplane.

Fly often and stay straight and level.

*Check FAA accident reporting site. From May8 to May23 there are plenty of examples of the above.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

As There Haven't Been Any Earth Shaking Stories......

There haven’t been any earth shaking stories to discuss so I am going to just deal with the “everyday mundane” issues out there.

Some of what follows will be rather a bit of rehash. Recently as well as in the past I have written about mundane things as gear up landings, taxiing off the runway or crashing for no apparent reason. I don’t mean to be blasé about accidents, people getting hurt, even dying. But, It seems that all I am reading on the FAA Preliminary Accident and Incident Reports is just about all of the above. Just look at the data presented on 4/22/14.
Don’t believe me? Here goes a synopsis from today’s FAA report:
            C-172 lands short in the grass and flips over
            Cirrus SR-20 Landing at Sanford Int’l Apt went off side of runway and through a ditch
C-210 Struck the prop on landing (we’ve discussed that too)
            Pa-18 On landing went off the runway into the trees at smaller county airport
            Champion –on landing went off the runway and gear collapsed
            Pa-24 Gear up landing and struck prop    

I don’t remember ever having trouble keeping the plane on the taxiway or runway. Now in a high wind, especially a cross wind, while piloting a light plane like a Pa-!8 or a Cessna 150, one might get challenged. We’ve discussed gear up landings, and how best to avoid them several times. Still it seems to be one of the main errors occurring every week. Please don’t think I am trying to make light of serious problems that occur, such as icing, engine failure, heavy IFR etc.

So what’s the answer to all these rather senseless and probably avoidable accidents? The principle one is to have had good instruction and to pay attention to what you are doing and Practice, Practice and Practice.

Till next time.

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.