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.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Memories From The Cockpit.........

It was a long time ago when I first started to think about flying my own airplane. Ever since I can remember I was looking up into the sky, searching for the source of the “buzzing” sound made by the airplanes engines. Walking with my parents or other adult, I would pull on their arms to try and stop them so I could stop and look. Seventy odd years later, I still have to “stop and look”.

My love affair with aviation, was greatly reinforced by my obtaining various pilot’s licenses and later in life by owning my own planes. I was fortunate also by being able to fly part time professionally, as I have written about in my blog:operationsafeflight.blogspot.com.

Looking back at my writings, I am struck by how much I have tried to pass on. “tidbits” of flight knowledge and experience, in an effort to help newer pilots, (and some older) avoid costly and deadly mistakes. Whenever I read the FAA accident data, I want to shake the offending pilot awake and offer some constructive guidance.

I can’t help but wonder how much the digital age has accelerated these errors and accidents. For example: the replacement of individual data gauges by two large screens, may be part of the problem. The “big” picture may only confuse the less experienced pilot. I still remember well the basic instruments present in the J-3 I flew as a young solo pilot. Only pertinent data was presented. For example: airspeed, engine RPM, some type of turn and bank and altimeter and compass. Not even a radio in the one flew. There wasn’t much to distract the learning pilot. Just the very basic necessary data presented. As a result, a lot of “fly by the seat of your pants” was done. I learned what an uncoordinated turn or a stall felt like, a useful thing for the neophyte to experience for sure.

Well that’s it for now. Looking back in time and using a word processor instead of a control wheel or “stick”. Definitely not as much fun, but quite a bit safer.

Young pilots. Keep on flying. Eyes wide open and your head cool.

Happy flying.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

So We Can All Learn From Our Mistakes........

It seems that all the FAA writes about now are the mishaps pilots make on taxiing, landing and even taking-off. My last few articles have dealt with these adnauseam, so I won’t get into it again now except for one that stands out.This deals with a plane that made a forced landing on Venice Beach.Two people walking on the beach were struck by a plane that had a power failure. It was a tragic situation for sure. The Piper Cherokee was losing power and therefore unable to reach a nearby airport or just stay aloft. The question in my mind: could the pilot have crash landed safely on the beach edge without hitting two innocent people? Without actually being there, or better yet be in the cockpit, that is a very difficult call. Factors such as the planes altitude, attitude, distance from the landing site, view from the cockpit, type plane and lastly pilots experience level, all have to be considered. I will leave it there and be grateful it never happened to me.

I guess it’s time to ‘fess up. As a young pilot flying out of Syracuse (SYR) in a Cessna 172 I had an encounter with a tree at the end of the runway. This was at a very small strip south of SYR, with something like an 1800 foot runway. There were trees at both ends of the runway, so pilot beware! I was on a rather high final, higher than I should have been due to the trees. Also I bet I was faster than 1.3 Vso (too fast). I remember being just past the trees and a bit high and fast (in retrospect). Yup, you guessed it. I tried to force the plane down to land. As I held the nose down (pushing the control wheel as hard as I could) and standing on the brakes, it just kept on rolling. Until meeting up with a small tree just off the runway threshold. It wasn’t too noisy but I did get banged up a bit. Nothing too serious though. There was lots of damage to the prop, some to the structure and engine. Thank goodness for insurance!

There were a few people around and some confusion. I sat by the side of the wreck and wondered what was going to happen next. Pretty soon an older gray haired gentleman appeared and showed me his FAA badge. We chatted for a while, reviewing what had occurred. He was very understanding and pleasant, which was quite a relief for me. He went over some technical things about landings and flying in general. His rather gentle manner was most welcome as you can imagine. As he left, he told me to keep on flying and put the accident behind me. Very good advice which I followed, and never had another accident after that.

So we can all learn from our mistakes, and hopefully not repeat them.

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.