The basics matter

Last week at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Nascar team owner Jack Roush crashed him Beechcraft Premier business jet. Roush and his passenger survived. She was released from the hospital, while he apparently underwent facial surgery as a result of his injuries. The airplane appears totaled.

AP photo

What happened is still anyone’s guess, although a few key scenarios remain likely. The accident happened over the runway while Roush was on approach. There’s speculation he tried to go around, got slow, and stalled into the runway. There’s also talk of the fact that there was a slow airplane on the runway ahead of him and he was trying to keep the jet slow to maintain spacing.

Landing at Oshkosh during the show is unlike landing anywhere else. Traditional spacing rules are thrown out the window in favor of multiple airplanes landing on different spots on the same runway almost at the same time. So you can image the stress of trying to slow down for an airplane on the runway with thousands of other airplanes and spectators around you, while the controller is telling you to land on a specific spot.

It’s important to note that Roush’s Premier is an incredibly fast single-pilot, swept-wing jet that is completely different than a training aircraft. But to me, that’s part of the point of the back story.

If you’ve ever wondered why you spend countless hours doing stalls, steep turns, landings, and go arounds, accidents such as the one Roush had is the reason. Forgive the metaphor, but flight training is not unlike playing little league. The basic skills are taught and developed, and then you move up through the ranks, maybe some day even playing professional baseball. But without the basic skills, you’ll never get to the majors. Roush had played little league just like we all do. But his accident indicates a failure to perform to the basic standard.

When you practice stalls, don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re not just practicing how to recover from the maneuver–you’re also learning to identify when a stall is imminent. Clearly Roush should have known that from the days of his private pilot training.

What if he was trying to go around? You know how your instructor tells you to add full power? Roush’s accident is a perfect illustration of why. If you pull up the nose to stop the descent and add only a little bit of power, you will stall. There’s no two ways around it. That’s why you give it the gas and get out of there. There seems to be some evidence that Roush didn’t do that.

All of this might not seem important now, but as soon as you start to fly a more complex, faster airplane you’ll see small mistakes start to amplify. Cessnas and Pipers can almost be considered poor training aircraft because they are too forgiving. That makes them robust and able to withstand abuse, but it also means we’re able to land hard without consequence, drift on crosswinds without damage, and often perform other maneuvers without even knowing our skills are poor.

If you take the baseball anology again, consider that in little league a hitch in your swing doesn’t mean anything when the ball is coming to the plate at only about 30 miles per hour. But at 100 miles per hour that hitch means you’ll never get a hit. Similarly, if you don’t recognize an impending stall in a Cessna, you won’t lose a ton of altitude. But on a swept-wing jet, you may total the airplane or worse.

It’s why a good instructor won’t let you slide on this vital skills, and it’s why we practice them so much. Remember that if you want to play in the big leagues you need to develop the right skills and techniques early in your flying.

–Ian Twombly

  • Keith Mendoza

    Ah finally, finally someone willing to point out that stalls isn’t something to be feared, it just need to be taught and learned properly. I don’t have specific examples but I have observed that aviation articles (even from AOPA’s two magazines) and books that the authors give an impression that stalls are just very bad things; yet, a good landing will include a stall just as the mains touches the ground.

    I fly out of KSNA and on more than one occasion I have to choose between slow flight in the pattern or climb because the guy in front of me is going to extend downwind all the way to the former Marine base up ahead for no apparent reason. I personally prefer to slow flight it because I know from training that it’s the best bet I have should the engine quit. However; that doesn’t mean I don’t climb when I know that my “slow” won’t be slow enough for that guy who just got called by ATC to turn around because they’re about to exit the 5-mile inner ring of the Class C airspace (yes, this has actually happened on more than one occasion) sadly enough that flight is a training flight with a student learning landings for the first time–which in my opinion the 15-degree offset requirement on 19L at KSNA is not the best condition to do it in.

    I’m sure I’ll get admonition for this, so I’m going to explain myself: I’m confident doing this because I’m confident that I can tell when the aircraft is about to stall–and basically fly it in that state. I also know what an entry to spin looks like–and be able to stay out of it. If I stalled or spun at about 800′ AGL I can confidently say that I’m not going to recover because of man-made terrain around the airport.

  • Steve Kittel

    Just my student pilot observations (and a 13 yr DOD mechanic on Navy fixed and rotary wing aircraft), there doesnt seem to be the necessary separation of jet and prop aircraft. There are multiple runways at that field. Jets are inherently heavier and faster, not to mention the response time required for the turbine to spool up and reach the requested power. Whatever the cause, it is the PIC’s responsibility to stay ahead of the aircraft and go-around. Regardless of Right-of-Way rules, I never try to make assumptions of what the person in front of me is going to do, and err on the side of caution. I had a twin cut directly in front of me to base leg (guess he assumed his plane was faster) while I was on downwind…watched him the entire way of my right wing. I adjusted my downwind speed accordingly…better he ding his own aircraft, than take me with him…

  • Scott Wilson

    One pilot I talked to at OSH who saw the whole accident from the warbirds area just north and lined up with runway 18, says Roush cut his base to final turn late and was in at least a 60 degree bank trying to get back lined up with the runway before stalling and crashing. I know sometimes eyewitness accounts can be wrong, but this guy seemed pretty certain. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the official report says, but guys I know who are NASCAR fans all say Roush has a reputation of being supremely arrogant. Arrogance in a go-around situation can get you killed (the old “I don’t need to go around, I can make this work” attitude). I’ll be looking forward to the final report, to find out what really happened.

  • Tony Johnstone

    I have a sign on the wall of my hangar where I base my aerobatic school. “We can teach you to fly better, however, the laws of gravity and physics will still apply.” Accidents like this usually occur because some pilot is trying to make the airplane do something outside the limits of the flight envelope. Understanding stalls, spins, and slow flight will improve basic piloting skills, but most importantly, will allow one to recognize when the edge of the envelope is upon you. Don’t paint yourself into this corner, if you overshoot the base-to-final turn at low speed and low altitude, make the decision to go around IMMEDIATELY!

  • James R. Kadlec

    I dislike stalls. Period. However the stalls if thought of in a training manner, they are nothing more than an approach to a landing. Botched of course allowing the go-around procedure to be performed. I prefer the altitude for safety and stall awareness, but ground effect provides a sense of security not discovered at several thousand feet. I personally got yelled at for performing a go-around by an instructor. As a student I corrected him that a PIC can perform a go-around at any time. As the check airmen grumbled, it was the right decision and has saved my bacon by err’ing to the safe side. Shame this plane may become scrap.
    Fly Safe

  • Mr. Sweetie

    Jack Roush made that mistake for the benefit of all of us, pilots and aviators alike. The pilots will look at it and presume to understand why it happened and discount the possibility of it ever happening to them. Aviators, on the other hand, do see the possiblity of it happening to them and take the unfortunate incident as a reminder to do some slow flight maneuvering close to Vso with the “stuff out” and a couple of practice stalls next time up.