Archive for the ‘Safety’ Category

Lost B777—reward offered, but some questions asked

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

SPAC_Satellite_GPS_IIF_lgThe Malaysian Airline mystery, which has now extended into weeks, reopens a discussion from last October (Get Lost and Get Found) regarding ELTs, PLBs, and tracking. Without re-thrashing all the pros and cons there seem to be a couple of logical solutions to this. Here are my thoughts—subject to change:

1. Commercial aircraft (FAR parts 121 and 135) should have a tracking device that cannot be disabled from the cockpit. We discussed Spot and Spidertracks, and there are very likely others. The key difference between these and “emergency devices”—including the approved ones—are that they leave a “breadcrumb” trail. Depending on the service, it is accurate to within a few miles and in some cases less. The ability to be found does not depend on fragile antennas that can shear off or be submerged on impact. If we can find a smart phone with an inexpensive app, why not an aircraft? The SAR community will perhaps disagree, but the present circumstance is not a strong endorsement for the existing system.

2. Personal Aircraft—those of us who fly under FAR Part 91 should have the option of what safety gear we wish to carry, in my opinion. Passengers should be informed that they cannot expect the same level of service or safety as they get from the airlines. The Coast Guard uses this approach with yachts, and if you choose to wander offshore beyond VHF range without an EPIRB or other tracking device—y’all be careful.

3. ADS-B is a reasonable alternative provided the FAA can deliver reasonable benefit at reasonable cost. Currently, I’m not convinced that we’re there. Within the Continental U.S., ground stations will largely do the monitoring—perhaps supplemented by some satellite. But land covers roughly 30 percent of the Earth’s surface. The rest is water world and there is not much radar as we’ve recently reaffirmed. Satellite tracking would save the airlines a lot of money—according to some who know, about $80 per flight hour on fuel per aircraft. Add that up over the course of a year, and you’re talking serious money. Iridium has such a system ready to be put into service, but there seems to be some bureaucratic difficulty in making the decision.

How much do you think has been spent on this current search? How much was spent searching for Air France 447, the Airbus 330 that was lost over the South Atlantic? There has to be a better way of dealing with this. Give GA the option of equipage and provide a cost effective path. For the commercial folks—perhaps there should be a cost effective mandate. Vaporliners shouldn’t be allowed to traverse the skies in the 21st century.

Meat Missiles

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

airplane and skydiver collisionThis is a pejorative term used by some pilots to describe skydivers. In free fall they are impossible to see and at terminal velocity, a descriptive term, may reach speeds of about 120 miles per hour. We have ample evidence of what a nine pound bird can do to an aircraft, so it takes little imagination to envision what devastation a much larger human can wreak. Years ago, a free fall jumper suffered a broken foot while removing the stabilator of a passing Cherokee resulting in four fatalities in the aircraft.

Under canopy, after the chute has opened, theoretically the target should be much easier to spot, and the impact will be less. However, you will not like the results! An accident in Florida earlier this week illustrates the point spectacularly as captured by photographer, Tim Telford.

The few details we know are this—subject to change: The skydiver was about to land on the runway when the aircraft arrived at the same time. Pilot and parachutist saw each other seconds before the collision, but inertia has a way of carrying things to a logical and frightening conclusion. The pilot pulled up to evade and hooked the shrouds of the chute pulling the diver behind the aircraft and whipping the aircraft nose first into the ground.

skydiver-plane collisionLady Luck smiled on both veteran participants whose instinctive reactions probably saved their lives. There were minor injuries for both in what sure looked like a fatal accident.

The NTSB and FAA will investigate, but a few thoughts for your consideration. I am wary of skydivers, not personally you understand, although many of us wonder about the wisdom of leaving a perfectly good airplane. In flight however, their trajectories will largely be forward and down with some constrained ability to maneuver. You won’t see them easily if at all. At airports where jumps are in progress monitor the CTAF and stay clear until sure that gravity has reclaimed everyone. In a recent drop zone arrival, I heard the call of “jumpers away” and decided that a little VFR holding practice might be just the thing. We landed a few minutes after the last jumper was down, and everybody got to fly again the same day.

En route, monitor CTAFs or get VFR flight following where available. Also, refresh your knowledge about parachute ops with ASI’s  “Know Before You Go: Navigating Today’s Airspace,” which includes a chapter on Parachute Jumping Areas. This is an encounter to avoid and it’s easy to do so! Sharing the airspace carefully, aloft and at the airport is not only neighborly, it’s life-prolonging.

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More Flap on Flaps

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

05-473_13ThingsThe flap blog from two weeks ago stirred up some divergent views. In short, a new pilot checked out in an old C172 and lowered full flaps on the preflight, forgot to raise them on takeoff and crashed with four fatalities. I questioned the need for a flap check on the preflight.

There were good points—pro and con:

1. Our highly unscientific poll showed a positive margin that if everyone just followed the checklist as written (53 percent) or as modified by the user (42 percent), this accident wouldn’t have happened. If only we could get pilots to follow checklists to the letter. Of course, I’ve never missed a checklist item and I bet you haven’t either. New C172s require the flaps to be checked on preflight—old C-172s do not. Technically, the pilot added a step to the checklist, but some of you thought that it was OK to add items but not to take them away.

03-342 Checklist

2. Some thought that checklists should be designed by pilots, not the manufacturer’s legal department. Great concept but don’t hold your breath.

3. In response to my question as to why the flight school is liable for what is clearly a pilot lapse—one response was that aircraft, like automobiles, are “dangerous instrumentalities” and the owner is responsible if they rent to an unqualified individual. Pondered that one for a while, but accidents happen with rental car companies frequently, and I suspect that they are not held responsible if someone makes a mistake in a car. The legal system works in strange and mysterious ways. That’s a can of worms we’ll get into another time.

4. A high time CFI had a rather low opinion of the “trash heaps” he flew with a large flight school. If the maintenance is that poor on obvious items, what about the critical ones you can’t see? A different flying gig might be in order. I’ve rejected a few flight reviews in personally owned machines that just weren’t up to my standards, but my livelihood also didn’t depend on flying junk. Not an easy call.

Having spent a few years in the trenches teaching full time in some pretty old aircraft I acknowledge some, but not all, of his points. A wager was made about the number of crashes caused by full flap takeoffs. We should also look at the number of accidents caused by a mechanical flap failure in this category of aircraft. That would give us a better view. Bet that number is equally small. We’ll do a little research on that and get back to you.

5. Sterile cockpit was mentioned during takeoff with the speculation that the pilot might have been distracted. Sterile procedures during preflight and before takeoff are excellent practice.

6. Some lamented the complexity of electric flaps and liked “Johnson Bar” simplicity. There is beauty in simplicity, but the complexity genie has been out of the bottle for a while and it may be tough to get her stuffed back in—liked the sentiment though! Could we please apply that simplicity to avionics!

7. Got a private email from a reader who noted, “It was like I was reading my own words. I was the pilot on final who witnessed the accident and have been flying out of that flight school for the last 19 years. I’m an A&P by profession, PP SEL for pleasure. The bulk of my flying has been in Cessna’s.

“I never understood why there was this need for other pilots to run the flaps through on preflight or at the run-up pad. My first instructor had a philosophy which made sense with me about flaps and the type of aircraft you fly:

  • Do you need flaps for takeoff?
  • Do you need them to land? Can you land without them?
  • The aircraft, at a school especially, flies almost every day and the previous pilot would have squawked a write-up if the flaps were acting up.
  • Do you really need to put more cycles on a secondary flight control that is nonessential for a light aircraft?”

Since these obviously corroborate MY view—take them as the last word…just kidding.

One other point was well made about the importance of divergent views. Having devoted a lifetime to the art and science of safe flight I’ve had the benefit of learning from multiple mentors and by observation. There is real value in looking at things from different angles and perspectives—that’s also a topic for another day but we agree on one point: Flaps misused are killer items. Handle with care.

Thanks much for engaging!