Tuesday, October 27, 2015

With Winter On The Horizon, It's Time To Start Thinking Of Things Like Ice, Snow And Sleet......

With winter on the horizon, its time to start thinking of things like ice, snow and sleet. Three things that can cause real danger to the casual pilot, and are best avoided. I had flown in to Monroe airport (EQY), just east of Charlotte, to be together with my wife for a weekend. As there was no hangar space available, I had to park the plane, a Cessna 340, next to a hangar outside in the cold. There was the possibility of some snow or ice, so I kept my fingers crossed. After spending a nice two days with my wife, it was time to fly back to Wilmington (ILM), just forty minutes away to the east. As there had been some precipitation, rain snow and even ice, I was concerned about what we would find. As it turned out, things were not good. There was a covering of light snow and ice over the entire plane.

It was Sunday evening, so no help from the FBO, which was closed. My wife and I just started out getting off what we could. We were dressed warmly, and fortunately had gloves on. We sure needed them as the hand broom just dealt with the snow. The ice would have to gotten off by hand. This was accomplished by banging on the ice where ever it was reachable. The areas of most concern were the airfoils, particularly the leading edges. Amazingly most of the ice on the rounded portions of the wing and tail, did break off when struck by our gloved hands. The flat portions of the wing did not want to cooperate, and we didn’t want to dent them either. I believed that getting the front portions of the ice off would suffice. Props had electric deice strips so no worry there. The plane was not heavily loaded. Take off would be done with some excess airspeed to offer a bit of a cushion, in case lift was lost.

Before climbing into the plane, I hugged my wife and reassured her, that I would test things out before actually lifting off. This was done to avoid stalling the plane due to the presence of residual ice. Taxiing out to the runway, I had a good feeling, that all would be OK. After a brief run-up, with prop heat on, I applied full power, feet pressing hard on the brakes. Things felt normal and off I went. The plane accelerated normally, so I gently applied pulled on the control wheel. The nose started to lift and airspeed seemed about normal, so I continued the take off. Climb appeared normal, and I even saw some of the residual ice break off the wing. Good riddance. And that was that. I felt quite lucky about how things had turned out. On landing at Wilmington I phoned my wife, and was pleased to leave an ”arrived safely” message. The reason for the message, was that I got to Wilmington before my wife drove back to our home in Charlotte.

Icing shouldn’t be treated casually. Each plane can respond to icing in a specific manner. Differing airfoils, power plants etc. all contribute to unique handling characteristics. The best advice I can offer is to avoid ice if you can. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Same Old, Same Old..............

It seems that I have written about the type accidents that are occurring over and over again. Things like forgetting to lower the gear, or crashing alongside or off the runway in the weeds because of inattention. No one wants to read about them again. And, I don’t feel like dealing with them now either. So I am just going to relate some flight adventures of my own. Yes, maybe I will repeat myself.

Remembering some of my earliest flights as a young student or a neophyte private pilot, makes me laugh and groan a bit. For instance shortly after getting my private ticket, I invited three of my buddies for a short flight to the coast. Taking off from Tewksbury, MA., on runway 21, I dutifully turned south according to the DG (directional gyro). After a short while I noted the hills were getting more prominent and wondered why. Finally cross checking the DG with the compass I figured it out. I had set the DG off by 180 degrees. Nowadays, many DG’s are automatically linked with the proper magnetic heading, eliminating this sort of error. By the way, the trip finally went well, and we landed at Cape Cod and had a good swim.

One other incident remains solidly embedded in my personal flight computer. I was making a flight check for my instrument rating with an instructor friend of mine, in an Aztec. We had done several approaches and touch and go’s and were on a final flight. This had been a no gyro approach to simulate instrument failure. I guess the additional stress of doing something unusual contributed to my forgetting to complete my pre-landing check list. As a result as I was about to touch down the instructor calmly said: “ Aren’t you going to put the gear down?”. Wow, did that make an impression, as I added power and went around. I never again failed to complete the pre-landing check list and drop the gear. Yes, I firmly believe in check lists. Just keep them as simple as possible, and use them faithfully.

That’s it for now. Fly often and safely.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Planes Colliding End Up Badly.........

Image result for pictures of small planes colliding crashesA phrase you must have heard a thousand times: “there is nothing new under the sun” applies to bad landings and resultant sequelae. In the latest FAA accident happenings 5 out of 5 accidents involve landings and the day before 7 out of 17. Typical errors such as: hard landing, busted left main wheel, struck prop etc. As I have dealt with these before, I don’t want to belabor it now. But If I had to use one word to help pilots reduce these errors, it would be PRACTICE. Practice makes perfect, is a phrase commonly thrown about. It would be great if   one’s practice always made a positive change in piloting technique. No guarantee, but go out and try, so you have a better chance to beat the odds.

Changing gears, we have recently had an awful (avoidable?) mid-air accident involving an F-16 fighter jet and a Cessna 150. The pilot and his passenger, his father, died in the crash. The military pilot was able to safely eject. The F-16 was IFR, the C-150 VFR. The F-16 pilot was in radio contact with the radar controller, the C-150 was not.  The controller advised the jet pilot that he had traffic ahead, and if not in sight turn left 180 degrees.  The jet pilot replied by asking “confirm 2 miles?”.  The controller replied “..if traffic not insight turn left heading 180 immediately”. Over the next 18 seconds the track of the F-16 began turning southerly. Ouch! If you ever have an “immediately” order, you must do exactly that. Lean on those controls, nice steep bank up to 60 degrees if needed. That is not a casual order. The result here was a mid-air with two innocents buying the farm.

Another landing accident, albeit somewhat unusual, involved a Socata TBM700  landing in Wisconsin. Apparently the plane was on short final and decided for an unknown reason, to initiate a go-around. Now the TBM700 is a turboprop with an engine that can deliver a lot of torque to the prop rapidly. If flown slowly as on short final, the throttle must not be shoved full open too rapidly as the large amount of torque delivered to the prop, can overwhelm things. This apparently happened here with tragic results. The plane supposedly went into a steep left turn, stalling and crashed into the ground. According to Socata, there have been 36 crashes between 1990 and 2010. This included 6 crashes where pilots applied power while landing with resultant stalls and crashes. Power must be applied “steadily and slowly to full climb power”, as related by a Socata instructor.

So that’s it for now. Enjoy the coming cooler weather, and watch that power application.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Lately It Seems That Nose Wheels Are Being Busted......

Lately it seems that nose wheels are being busted as if they were meant to be destroyed. In a recent FAA accident report, there were no less than “six nose wheels destroyed on landing” reported on a single weekend. Wow that takes some doing. The thing that really got my attention was this occurred in six different models, including a small twin. What I would like to know is: how does one destroy a nose wheel on landing? The only answer I can come up with is this: by landing with full aircraft weight on them. This means that the pilot failed to properly flare the plane, bleed off airspeed and then touch down on the mains. Occasionally a three point landing can be done, but carefully after slowing down properly, with enough back pressure on the elevator to shift most of the weight back on the mains. This can be a useful procedure in a short field situation, where braking immediately after touchdown is required.*

I remember one flight in my B-55 Baron. It required landing on a short 1950 foot runway at  night. Little if any headwind, so braking would be at a premium. It was marginal VFR, with slightly limited visibility.  It was almost straight in after following the VOR procedure approach, speed down to 95 knots, partial flaps gear down and runway in sight. Half a mile to go, time for a GUMPP check. That stands for: Gas, Undercarriage, Mixture, Props, Pump (fuel). OK, three in the green, (something so important to check).** Coming up on the threshold lights, start easing the power back, check props full forward  (again a must if a go-around is to be done). Start back pressure on the control wheel, pulling the nose up and slowing the plane. But not enough to stall.  Now this is key. I want to land as flat as possible as I will be stepping on the brakes as soon as I touch down with the mains. If the nose is up high, the nose wheel would slam down as the brakes take hold. Following the protocol I was able to stop well before the runway end, not even close to the runway end red lights. You can too with some appropriate practice!

 In summary: to avoid slamming down the nose wheel when landing, the goal is to land on the mains, with one exception offered above (careful three point landing). This requires attention to airspeed and attitude. Enjoy your flying, practice and be safe.

*Advice offered here is rather general, and not meant to counter anything “your” instructor might say. It might best be classified as: Food For Thought.
**Recently I read about several moderate sized turboprops landing “gear up”.

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!