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.










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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.








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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.