Hi, I’m Bruce Landsberg and welcome to the Leading Edge. We’ll discuss safety-of-flight issues, procedures, techniques, and judgment. With the convective nature of Internet misinformation, and so much content that is over weight and out of balance, you need an experienced and trusted source. So, strap in and let’s go fly!

Brilliant or Not So Much?

April 15, 2014 by Bruce Landsberg

Car helping extend Arrow gear

Pilots are occasionally faced with a decision that looks brilliant if it works and stupid if it fails. In this fascinating and descriptive narrative, join us as we Monday-morning-quarterback some tough decisions.

The following edited narrative came from a NASA ASRS report invol­ving a commercial student, a CFI, and a Cessna Cardinal with a recalcitrant left main gear:

“… We raised the gear and lowered it again, but the left main again failed to fully extend, remaining about half way down… Fearing that the left gear wasn’t getting hydraulic pressure, I checked the hydraulic reservoir. It was full… ran the Manual Gear Extension Checklist again and pumped the gear down using the manual override handle… Left gear remained in its half-down [position].

I went into the back seat of the aircraft to get a better look… The tire was wet all over…most likely from hydraulic fluid spraying out from a broken line each time the hydraulic pump was actuated.

The next checklist was the “Gear Up Landing”. I wanted to exhaust all other possible solutions…before considering the possibility of an intentional gear up landing. The only other idea I could think of was a textbook example…that involved opening up the door, reaching outside the aircraft, and pulling the gear up. We contacted [XXX] Tower to alert them of our situation and have them call our mechanics to see if they could provide any other ideas that we had not thought of. 

After troubleshooting (with the mechanics), the only idea they could come up with was the textbook example mentioned above… Not wanting to risk injury to people on the ground…we headed back out over the ocean.

My student and I switched seats. I had him fly the aircraft and I settled in to the left seat. He slowed the aircraft to 60 KTS at 4,000 FT, allowing plenty of altitude to recover if we entered an inadvertent stall…I fastened my seat belt, opened the door, turned around, put my feet and legs outside, and stretched. They wouldn’t reach… tried to reach the gear with my arm… opened the door, turned around to reach, but couldn’t.

I realized that any forward facing solution was not going to work. I turned around backwards, fashioned a makeshift harness to hold me in, lowered and reclined the seat to its full aft and down position, opened the door, reached out again, and was able to reach the gear this time. But I didn’t have the strength to pull it all the way into its locked position with one arm. So next I reached out with both hands, grabbed the gear, and then pulled it forward. I heard and felt a ‘click’. My student confirmed that we had a ‘green’ down and locked light. 

Upon inspection by Maintenance, it was discovered that the pivot axle had sheared–most likely a manufacturing defect during the forging process.”

It’s easy to second guess someone in this situation, but this CFI is far braver (and more flexible) that I would have been. Changing seats in a single engine aircraft is sporty, and hanging out a door with the wind trying to blast it shut and hoping like heck that the seat belt buckle doesn’t unlatch is above and beyond the call in my book. I like Cardinal RGs as much as anyone, but there isn’t an aircraft built that is worth the risk of life in my view.

Another landing gear incident led to a major tragedy some years back. A Piper Aerostar carrying Senator John Heinz had a gear malfunction and collided with a helicopter whose pilot was attempting to verify the gear situation.

This incident with the Cardinal worked, but the risk-reward equation is not balanced in my view. What do you think?


Bruce Landsberg,
President of the AOPA Foundation

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Read the Flippin’ Notam!

April 9, 2014 by Bruce Landsberg

LAL arrivalsI’m not a big fan of the largely bureaucratic exercise we call the notam system. Most notams are nearly irrelevant and a few are absolutely critical. For those few that are operationally essential, pilots should darn well better know what’s happening.

Last week, flying into the Sun ‘n Fun (SNF) area—and although not headed directly to Lakeland (LAL)—it seemed prudent to review the notam. An airshow of that magnitude can booger up (a technical ATC term) a lot of airspace and multiple airports. The controllers were masterful in separating the IFR types from each other and the VFR inbounds to LAL and various satellite airports.

But there are a few—well OK a few more than a few—who were what I’ll charitably call “clueless.” There is a 37-page notam that covers every aspect of operating in and around SNF. It’s well written and organized—would that ALL notams were as pertinent and well written. Besides just the logistics of operating in highly congested airspace, there is essential safety info to keep aircraft from swapping paint or worse!

Right there on page four it says: “The airport is CLOSED during aerobatic demonstrations and nightly from 2200-0600 EDT (0200-1000 UTC).” It is even highlighted in yellow, so you can’t miss it! On the very next page there is a table that states exactly when the airport is closed for the daily airshow given in both local and UTC (GMT or Zulu, whatever you’d like to call that time that everybody has trouble remembering the conversion factor for).

So, about 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, when the airport closed at 1200 (noon) local, the Tampa controller asked a LAL-bound pilot if he was going to make it in before 1200. The pilot answered he’d be “maybe a few minutes late.” The controller asked if he had any alternatives in mind. Well, it’s a new day and the pilot hadn’t considered that, so the controller patiently listed several other airports that might be used. Our friend asked which one had ground transportation to the show! Somebody else piped up with an answer, and “Mr. Better-Informed” headed off.

Shortly after that, two other inbounds also decided that they, too, would divert. Finally, a jet called in on the Lake Parker VFR Arrival—used only for piston aircraft—and ATC calmly explained that he’d get vectors for a straight-in to Runway 9.

So, while this is a good example of a notable notam ignored, way too many are irrelevant. Too many committees have all promised that they would fix the system, and all that started at least 15 years ago!

Two observations:

1. Stop giving notams in code—the teletype isn’t coming back, and we can handle the bandwidth.

2. Stop listing operationally irrelevant stuff, like unlit towers five miles from the airport and 275 feet agl. If you’re operating a helicopter at night that may be useful, but for the rest of us it just creates clutter.

Next time you’re planning a trip, please review all the items that somebody thought would be essential for you to fly safely. We’ll give a prize for whoever comes up with the most absurd. Remember to parse out the critical stuff that may have been buried—some of it is really important. And if you’re going to an airshow—please read the flippin’ notam.

Bruce Landsberg,
President of the AOPA Foundation

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Weight “watchers”

March 27, 2014 by Bruce Landsberg

Small-scaleGot a note from a long time member/pilot who flies for Angel Flight. He noted that his passengers tend to consistently underestimate their weights. He either has to fly overweight or inform them that 150 pounds of luggage or Aunt Tilly has to stay behind. Not so good.

The standard 170-pound human that the airlines used to estimate tonnage has been increased to about 190 pounds—with lower or higher bracketing based on season and Kentucky windage. With big aircraft it’s less of an issue, and with a large number of people the bell-shaped curve drives weights to the statistical average.

Southwest Airlines delicately addresses the issue on their website in the Customers of Size section: “…who encroach upon any part of the neighboring seat(s) may proactively purchase the needed number of seats prior to travel in order to ensure the additional seat(s) is available. The armrest is considered to be the definitive boundary between seats; width between the armrests measures 17 inches. The purchase of additional seats serves as a notification to Southwest of a special seating need, and allows us to adequately plan for the number of seats that will be occupied on the aircraft.”

For light aircraft, weight and its distribution go beyond decorum/comfort to safety of flight. Generally, the aircraft is already fueled by the time the passengers show up, and the pilot has planned on a certain amount, so we don’t have that flexibility. De-fueling is expensive and messy. If the runway is short or the density altitude high, rate of climb becomes essential to survival.

One technique that has served me well is to consciously add weight to whatever a potential passenger tells me. The percentage varies based on the suspected veracity and gender of the traveler. For luggage, I have a small digital scale that helps to ensure that neither weight nor balance limits are exceeded.

Our member suggested perhaps having the AOPA Foundation buy digital scales for FBOs to actually weigh passengers. “Perhaps,” he suggests, “use it as a fundraising campaign as well as a safety reminder.” It’s a novel idea but potentially explosive. What do you think?

Free educational programs from the Air Safety Institute—like safety advisors and online courses (including one to help volunteer pilots balance safety and compassion)—are available to all thanks to support from pilots everywhere. Help us to keep educating pilots on safety issues by donating to the AOPA Foundation today.


Bruce Landsberg,
President of the AOPA Foundation

ASI Online Safety Courses  |  ASI Safety Quiz