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 – Part II

April 22, 2014 by Bruce Landsberg

Cardinal RG

Last week’s blog on decision making turned out to be more than the usual rant on poor decision making. I voiced an opinion that a CFI faced with a recalcitrant main landing gear on a Cessna 172 RG might be taking more risk than prudent in trying to get the gear down. You can read last week’s blog here or just scroll down. (It was noted in error as a Cardinal RG—my mistake.)

There were good comments, pro and con. As this is being written Tuesday morning, 70 percent thought the insurance company should buy the aircraft, and 20 percent thought the CFI was managing the risk appropriately.

What makes this both fun and educational is that the CFI, whom we’ll call Tom, called me after reading the blog to tell his side of the story. Here are his comments, which give us a rare insight into his thought process:

“First and foremost, I would like to assure everyone that this decision was not made in haste and on a whim.  It was well thought out and coordinated with maintenance, ATC, the pilots in the practice area over the ocean, and amongst the two of us in the cockpit.

I bring to this equation over 20 years of flight experience, 8,000+ hours of flight time, a jet airline captain perspective, skydiving and open-door/wind stream knowledge, and an FAA gold seal CFII-MEI. My student and I knew each other well as I had completed his Private and Instrument training. We employed CRM, aeronautical decision making, and risk management using all of the available resources (including the numerous acronyms such as DECIDE, the 3P model, and CFIT). We maintained situational awareness and divided up the flying and problem-solving tasks throughout the entire scenario.

We thought of using a tow bar but didn’t want to risk hitting the elevator. Insurance, money, and cost never came into our decision-making process. In the end I’m glad I didn’t have to test the flight characteristics of an asymmetrical gear landing. I appreciate everyone’s thoughts and comments. I would like to reiterate, though, that I wouldn’t advocate this as a blanket procedure to be performed in all cases. If any of the variables had been different (non-VFR weather, low fuel, a different type of aircraft, single pilot, low-time pilot, night, etc.) then we may have very well come to a different conclusion and solution. Thank you for reading my response.”

The picture shows a Cardinal RG which had essentially the same gear system as a C172RG with a trailing main gear (not asymmetrical) which took the other option and bellied in. That aircraft lives to fly today.

Tom, thanks for a very clear explanation of how you reached your decisions. Some key points—you took a measured approach, and based on your background and on the conditions that existed at the time, decided that the risk was manageable. You didn’t hurry, there were no other complicating factors such as weather or fuel, and you coordinated with all the appropriate parties.

Hindsight bias says that humans almost always over-estimate their ability to forecast outcomes—especially after the fact. As I noted in the first round, I am fortunate to sit in a position of a Monday morning quarterback after all the pieces are laid out on the game board. Lawyers, accident investigators, other pilots, the media, and safety “experts” are quick to sit in judgment after they’ve had a few hours, days, weeks, or months to sift through all the facts. Sometimes we’re right and other times come across as holier-than-thou. Personally, I’ll stick to letting the insurance company have this one but commend you for a nice piece of work. Don’t know that I could have done it—and that’s exactly the point. Dirty Harry famously said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” This is especially true for pilots. It’s a fine line between wimping out and over-reaching. The consequences of misjudging can be severe.

Tom, I commend you for taking the time to call and bring this to light. It helps our safety cause to see and hear other views respectfully and professionally presented. Now, if we could just get our politicians to do the same!

Bruce Landsberg,
President of the AOPA Foundation

ASI Online Safety Courses  |  ASI Safety Quiz

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

ASI Online Safety Courses  |  ASI Safety Quiz

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

ASI Online Safety Courses  |  ASI Safety Quiz