Archive for the ‘Safety’ Category

It’s Storm Week

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Storm WeekEvery year GA loses a few aircraft and their precious human cargo to nature’s equivalent of a thermonuclear bomb.

Looking back 20 years, on average, there were about five GA thunderstorm accidents per year. Surprisingly, that hasn’t changed much in two decades! That corresponds roughly to one accident per month during T-storm season. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not a lot. But unlike landing accidents where almost everybody walks away (not my definition of a good landing), a thunderstorm tangle has a 75 percent fatality rate. Also, every flight has a landing, but not that many flights encounter CBs. Confounding factors make comparable assessments difficult!

So the numbers are flat, but my statistically unproven hunch is that we are doing much more flying in thundery weather thanks largely to datalink. In-cockpit weather—displayed on portable or panel-mounted devices—has revolutionized the ability to see and avoid boomers. Use the tool intelligently lest optimistic interpretations lead us where angels fear to tread. On board radar is also a tremendous help in-close, but it also has to be used smartly.

One of my favorite mentors, Captain Bob Buck who wrote the book on weather flying, gave the big storms anthropomorphic characteristics. He described them as “treacherous.” Why? Because while having similar characteristics, no two storms are exactly alike. To misquote Forrest Gump’s mother, “You never know what you’re going to get.” What looks like something you’ve seen before may be quite different. Bad can go to worse to impossible literally within a mile.

True skill lies in avoidance. We’re kidding ourselves upon escape from an encounter that it was due to airmanship. Lady luck merely smiled.

Enough philosophy! Cruise over to the Air Safety Institute Storm Week page for an all-inclusive look at a multitude of courses, case studies, and quizzes. There’s also a webinar registration for Wednesday, June 11 at 7 p.m. EDT to join Dr. David Strahle and me for a look at in-cockpit weather with an emphasis on datalink. It will be recorded if the timing doesn’t work for you. AOPA President Mark Baker and I took a looong trip in a Cessna Caravan from St. Louis to Frederick and we discuss the tools used in this “Flying the Weather: T-storm Toolbox” video.

There were a lot of storms! This year—let’s try to reduce the CB encounters and accidents to an all-time low. We want and need you flying with us next year.

Turn On, Drop Out, and Tune In

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

With apologies to Dr. Timothy Leary, an early adherent to the “mind expanding” capabilities of LSD, I had a slightly different experience at AOPA’s Indy Fly-In. It has nothing to do with mind-altering substances, so if that’s your interest—this ain’t it!

Had flown out to Indy in a C182, enamored with the mind-bending capabilities of the iPad, and was preparing to head home Sunday morning. The trusty iPad is now a core part of my flight planning and on-board supplemental information package. On power-up in the morning to check weather, a blue iTunes button and a white cord to connect to another computer was all that appeared on the screen. No manner of button pushing, secret incantations, or threats would make the beastie come alive.

A quick smart-phone consult revealed the dreaded “iTunes reset” was in order. The Pad had gone down hard and needed a transfusion from iTunes to unscramble its brain. I had no computer capable of said fix (which ultimately took about 25 minutes, not including complete chart downloads—you’re probably looking at about an hour for a full re-lobotomizing with charts).

Here’s the point: Without real old fashioned paper charts and approach books on board, the flight would have been significantly delayed while procuring the suitable data. It was a beautiful VFR day and one isn’t required to carry charts, but FAR 91.103 notes: Preflight action. Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight…

So as long as I was able to stay out of complex airspace or any number of myriad hypothetical issues that only a Murphy’s Law addict could conjure up there was no need to use paper guidance—it could have worked. But let me see…ah…AOPA’s Pilot Protection Plan with legal services and a spare NASA ASRS form in the flight bag…just in case.

Here’s an excerpt from AC91-78, which may be more than you wanted to know—emphasis added:

a. EFBs/ECDs can be used during all phases of flight operations in lieu of paper reference material when the information displayed meets the following criteria:
(1) The components or systems onboard the aircraft which display precomposed or interactive information are the functional equivalent of the paper reference material.
(2) The interactive or precomposed information being used for navigation or performance planning is current, up-to-date, and valid.
NOTE: Supporting reference material such as legends, glossaries,
abbreviations, and other information is available to the pilot but is not
required in the cockpit during operation.
b. The in-flight use of an EFB/ECD in lieu of paper reference material is the decision of the aircraft operator and the pilot in command. Any Type A or Type B EFB application, as defined in AC 120-76A may be substituted for the paper equivalent. It requires no formal operational approval as long as the guidelines of this AC are followed.
c. It is suggested that a secondary or back up source of aeronautical information necessary for the flight be available to the pilot in the aircraft. The secondary or backup information may be either traditional paper-based material or displayed electronically.”

Most airlines and large jet operators still carry charts by my understanding, but some are migrating to Electronic Flight Bags—but no single Pad operations! The logic in that suddenly becomes crystal clear! Being a Luddite has its benefits!

You might enjoy this Pilot Safety Announcement we put together awhile back. Don’t misunderstand—we love the Pad and most of the time it works beautifully, but when it doesn’t, a backup is more than just a good idea.

Has anybody had any iPad problems? We’d love to hear!

Hail , Hail, the Gang’s all here

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

This is not a club you want to join—the “Busted Windshield, Dented Airframe Society.” Last week an airliner bound for Philly had its lights punched out by hail. It doesn’t happen that often, but it’s really expensive.

A picture being worth a few thousand blog words helps with the motivation to keep a healthy distance from the good ‘ole big ones!

hail windshield

          Figure 1

From the Skybrary website, Figure 1 and Figure 2 are pictures from an Airbus 321 flown by a foreign carrier over Korea that encountered severe hail: The windshield wiped out and radome was ruined (gone actually). Damage was also noted on the leading edges of the wings and empennage.

Side effects included the inability to look out the front of the aircraft—landing was a bit challenging. A huge amount of noise in the cockpit made communication very difficult.

hail radome

          Figure 2

Suspect the discussion with the chief pilot wasn’t exactly career enhancing. Failure to keep up with the weather, no warning from ATC, and cutting it too close were cited. The tough part about this is that most of the time there isn’t any hail. However, the answer that “It always worked before” won’t always buy you a sympathetic audience with the boss or your insurance agent.


hail shaft

          Figure 3

Figure 3 is a low altitude shot of a possible hail shaft. (Although it could be rain, we didn’t get close enough to test!) This was taken on the trip from STL to FDK referenced in last week’s blog. We were a good 15 miles away (as best we could estimate) from the storm at 5,000. VFR pilots take note—this isn’t just a problem for the IFR dudes and dudettes!


As we get into thunderstorm season proper, remember that whatever it’s doing now, in ten minutes it will be different (often worse). A reminder that the Air Safety Institute’s Storm Week begins on June 8, and the live “Datalink: Cockpit Weather Do’s and Don’ts” webinar will be held June 11 at 7:00 p.m. EDT.