Archive for the ‘Safety’ Category

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!

Checklists and Lawsuits

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Precision LandingAn accident that involved a new pilot and an old Cessna 172 is in the news. The Cessna was seen to takeoff with 40 degrees of flaps, get to about 100 feet agl, stall, crash, and burn. The NTSB investigation shows the aircraft right at gross weight despite having four adults aboard. That means the fuel load was light. The runway was more than enough to get airborne—more than 5,000 feet—so even if they were a bit overweight (which we don’t recommend) that wouldn’t necessarily have caused the crash.

What will guarantee no climb, and almost certainly a stall, is a takeoff with full flaps. My bet is that the pilot, used to flying newer and different aircraft, extended the flaps on preflight and never verified that they were up prior to takeoff. It was a simple but critical lapse.

The old C172s did not require a preflight flap check. That’s a newer checklist item that I’ve never quite been able to understand. Some say it’s to “check the flaps.” Flaps are, by design, robust and I’ve never had a mechanical problem with them. Lucky perhaps, but for most aircraft full flaps forgotten is takeoff denied. I’ve observed, on a few occasions, a full flap takeoff about to be attempted. A gentle reminder on the CTAF has always saved the day, but that’s a long way into the accident chain. Checklists are important but fragile barriers. If you’ve never missed an item you’re better than most!

So what happens by not checking the flaps on the preflight? Several possibilities:

1) On Run-up pad: They won’t come down—if needed for takeoff, taxi back, and get it fixed.

2) On Landing: They won’t come down—not a problem unless it’s a short field in which case, find a longer runway.

3) Numerous other what-ifs can be conjured up, but flaps are not a primary flight control and non-essential for light aircraft.

4) Forgetting to raise them is an impossibility and accidents like this are avoided.

Just to be sure I wasn’t too far off into Wonderland, I asked around and got some interesting answers. A student admitted forgetfulness on a go-around and the aircraft didn’t climb well at all—that’s not directly applicable but proves the point—it was also a newer Cessna with only 30 degrees of flaps. Two old timers agreed with me that this creates more problems than it solves. A new CFI thought it was a really good idea and the codgers ganged up on her. She suddenly became reasonable (that’s a great political technique as well, but it doesn’t mean you’re right!)

The lawsuit that was just filed is complex since it involves family members suing other family members. According to the Detroit News: “….The son of one of four people killed in a June 21 airplane crash is suing the estate of the dead pilot—also his stepbrother—and the plane’s owner (flight school), for negligence….The lawsuit alleges both (the pilot and the flight school) never conducted a pre-flight checklist inspection of the aircraft, which would have included operation of wing flaps that should have been up or retracted prior to takeoff. The apparent oversight, subsequently taking off with the plane’s flaps still fully extended, caused a ‘lack of thrust or attaining altitude on takeoff,’ according to the complaint.”

No question that this is a tragedy, but I have trouble seeing how the flight school is responsible for the pilot failing to follow the before-takeoff checklist. The legal system will sort that out for us, at considerable expense for all concerned.

The other question is whether the new checklists are setting people up to forget. Yes, there are two places to check the flaps—right after engine start and before takeoff—but frankly more steps in a checklist, especially if they are superfluous, are more opportunities for mischief. Do you believe that checklists are always sacred—especially if poorly written? It is presumptuous of me to claim to know more than the aircraft manufacturer but too often, the legal tail wags the operational dog.

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Media and “Spending Your Tax Dollars”

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Town_of_Palmyra_Wisconsin_Airport_2Never let the facts get in the way of a good story! And as is often the case, there is some truth, however small, buried therein. But instead of getting a balanced view, too often we get what the TV producer wants the slant to be…especially during sweeps week when stations do their best to tantalize potential viewers with the most dramatic and outrageous stuff. Could there be some financial incentive here? Nah!

In this case there’s an unusual twist: a local pilot complained that the small grass-strip airport where he operates is getting too much money from the state. And perhaps it’s true. Here’s the link—you be the judge.

Back story: AOPA Media Relations attempted to explain how the system works, that GA pays fuel taxes, and that they are a part of the national transportation system. There is a system, albeit imperfect at times, that distributes the money. The local pilot might be exactly right, but it seems like going to the local TV station might not be the best way to manage this.

The reporter made a big deal about the Wisconsin Department of Aeronautics failing to respond to questions posed by the “news” station. Guess what? The station did not respond to AOPA’s timely offer to explain things in more detail before the newscast. Hypocrisy in the media?  I am shocked!

The TV report drew an instant response from AOPA members. In fact some objected to the piece both on the AOPA’s Facebook page and the WTMJ’s website. They also emailed the station’s general manager. It is impressive how forceful our collective membership can be.

An opinion: There is too much “pork” in the system driven by local politics, airport managers, and engineering consultants who all feed at the trough. This applies to big and small airports, highways, various legislative bills— pretty much all things financial where there’s an opportunity for someone to make a buck.

Fact: Some small GA airports are over-improved. Some have control towers despite low traffic count. Ditto TRACONS. But when fiscal responsibility begins to creep into the conversation, someone plays the safety card even though in most cases the risk is minimal. Balance and common sense invariably get left in the financial orgy that often follows. Big airports often get the lion’s share of funding, as they should, although they get overfed as well.

Palmyra airport looks like a perfect place to introduce people to aviation, but this may have the opposite effect. What do you think and how might this have been handled differently?

“When in doubt tell the truth. It will confound your enemies and astound your friends.”  Mark Twain.