Archive for the ‘Safety’ Category

Harrison goes off-airport – and does it well!

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

blog bigHarrison Ford’s off-airport landing was predictably a media event, and while it was tough on him and the Ryan ST he was flying, perhaps there is a silver lining in all this. The good news—nobody on the ground was hurt and Harrison, while banged up, is as sold on flying as ever and will be able to go back up again. It shows that most crashes are survivable and by just the kind of guy many of us wish we were—Han Solo or Indiana Jones. Harrison has lots of experience in back country airports and short fields which certainly was beneficial.

Off-airport landings can be made safely, especially when flown by a competent pilot and with a reasonable option for touchdown even at a place like the embattled Santa Monica. The golf course located to the left of the departure runway was a near perfect place to park an aircraft with an ailing engine. The groundskeepers will have some healthy divots to replace but that’s job security. I’m a big fan of runway safety zones and compatible development. ‘Nuff said.

This is the year of avoiding the Loss-of-Control accident (LOC) according to the NTSB, and that includes crashes that occur during takeoff. We are told that, generally, in the event of an engine failure in a single-engine airplane to land more or less straight ahead. This avoids the “impossible” turn back to the airport that carries a high risk of stalling. There are several factors that go into a successful engine-out landing:

  • Don’t stall, don’t stall, don’t stall…ever!!!!
  • Fly the thing as far into the crash as possible—Bob Hoover’s priceless advice—because it dissipates the G forces.
  • A shoulder harness is worth more than gold. If your old aircraft doesn’t have them, get them before buying anything else!!!!
  • Minimum speed—above stall—is the best.
  • IF you attempt to turn back after takeoff, don’t do it below maneuvering altitude, whatever that might be for your aircraft, and it will likely be significantly higher than you might think.
    • Allow time for reaction, confusion, and wishing that you were someplace else.
    • Immediately change pitch attitude from climb to glide.
    • Feather a controllable pitch prop.
    • Make the turn back into the wind which will lessen the ground speed and keep you closer to the airport.
    • Optimal bank is about 45 degrees according to author and my friend, Barry Schiff, who has tested this. More bank than that and the stall speed goes up. Shallower means an off-airport touchdown.
    • Practice the maneuver at altitude. I speculate that we lose as many or more aircraft practicing for the event than due to actual failures.
    • Other options are another runway, a taxiway, or just an open area—any port in a storm!

A few more caveats to avoid the whole adventure in the first place:

  • Be sure the aircraft is properly configured for takeoff. If you lowered flaps on preflight, be sure that they are set properly. We’ve suffered six fatalities in the last 12 months due to what I think may be a questionable preflight check.
  • Fuel. Verify adequate quality and quantity in a tank connected to the engine.
  • Proper maintenance. Obvious, but if the engine isn’t happy, you won’t be either!

Finally, it’s a good idea to think through, on the run-up pad, what you’ll do and where you’ll go if the unthinkable happens. That cuts down on the “swimming-in-glue” that burns up precious unavailable time.

Harrison is a national icon and he’ll say that flight is worth the risk, just as his movie characters always seem to be living life to the fullest. I don’t presume to speak for Harrison, but take this opportunity to start the discussion with some of your non-flying friends. Life is never risk free, but it can be managed. Would love to hear some of your engine-failure-on-takeoff stories that resulted in a successful outcome and why.

A speedy recovery Mr. Ford, and many thanks for all you’ve done for GA!!!!

Of iPads, Certificated Avionics, and Arguments

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

ipad in cockpit usePerhaps you heard a few weeks ago that a couple in a Piper Comanche suffered a total electrical system failure. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does all of an aircraft’s installed certificated radios and electrical components become inoperative, including the landing gear. Unless, of course, there’s a backup supply—which many of us do not have.

This happened at night, which compounds things significantly, but a trusty iPad got them to an airport. The mostly happy ending was that they landed safely. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the pilot was unable to extend the landing gear manually but no injury resulted. Good!

The relatively inexpensive (as much as anything Apple is inexpensive) uncertified technology really helped. Anyone who has flown with an Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) app (which I believe are mostly “uncertified”) will have a hard time going back to paper. They have become so good that the FAA has approved EFB-use in airline operations (as long as there is more than one unit). Maybe that should help guide the FAR Part 23 rewrite where we look for lower cost alternatives to the low volume, high price certificated items. With internal or supplemental GPS, the EFB’s ability to navigate is more accurate and far more versatile than VORs—but it’s not perfect.

I had an earlier model iPad where the system locked up several times and refused to do anything until going through the dreaded iTunes reboot. This takes an internet connection, the patience of a saint, and about 20 minutes to accomplish—not so good for cockpit apps. Replaced the unit six months ago and so far, so good—but I still carry paper charts. So, as in all things in life, there is a balance point.

There was an ATC save last year involving an EFB pilot who ran out of juice on his pad and thus was chartless in IMC. ATC gave him progressive instructions to get to a runway. That’s putting too much blind faith in batteries—especially when the length of flight exceeds the available power.

Having redundancy in uncertified units might be better than putting all the eggs into just one super electronic basket—no matter how good. There have been some well-publicized meltdowns with ultra-sophisticated airline equipment proving that the disastrously infallible HAL 9000 computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey was eerily prescient.

Back to reality: After the above iPad rescue story was published, one of the CNET pundits—who has likely never been in a light aircraft—made some ignorant and disparaging remarks. Some of our pilot audience chimed in to attempt some education. Two of them proceeded to get into a public squabble about what happened and which of them was better qualified to hold forth on the topic!

Reminds me of the guidance never to get into an argument with a skunk as it’s hard to tell who smells worse after the fight. Without discussing any of the merits—far better to be respectful to each other and not give the media anything more to shoot at. As Mark Twain eloquently said, “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

Trumped in Palm Beach?

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Mar a lago club_with arrow edited_croppedDonald Trump, always the media hound, just sucks us in (and I’m guilty here), but for entertainment value this is hard to top. The latest Trump titillation is the $100 million lawsuit he’s filed against Palm Beach County. In a recent interview he said, “I am saving one of the great houses of this country and one of its greatest landmarks, and it’s being badly damaged by the airplanes.” He claims noise and emissions from aircraft are damaging the stone construction and disrupting “the once serene and tranquil ambience.” Perhaps Mr. Trump hasn’t noticed that most of South Florida is anything but “serene and tranquil” with the population influx over the last half century.

That’s understandable. He’s been distracted with multiple lawsuits against the Palm Beach International Airport (PBI). The first one in 1995 was settled when the county agreed to lease him some land to build Trump International Golf Course. Very shrewd business deal. He sued again in 2010 but that case was dismissed. Undaunted, he’s back!

Never one to be overly self absorbed, Trump claimed that he was being deliberately targeted by having most flights fly directly over his house. The suit apparently claims that the county’s airport director, who has been named in previous litigation, asked air traffic controllers to direct almost all flights due east, over Mar-a-Lago. These actions are called “deliberate and malicious. “Even Trump’s own Boeing 757, with his name modestly splashed over the side in gold, has been forced to rumble over Mar-a-Lago. It should be mentioned that the runways are aligned with the prevailing winds, east and west, which makes it operationally necessary for east arrivals and departures.

Too many other airports around the country are besieged by neighbors who move in afterwards and belatedly discover that aircraft make noise. The estate was built in 1927, and Eastern Airlines started operating DC-3’s out of PBI in the mid 30’s. Trump bought Mar-A-Lago in 1985 but apparently was unaware that a major international airport was less than three miles to the west. Who knew?

The irony of Trump’s whining is as epic as the man himself. Let me get this straight: Here’s a man who flies a heavy jet and helicopters around the country, who buys real estate (his business) located in the arrival and departure path of a large airport and then somehow feels he deserves to be compensated because of noise? Equally plausible, perhaps, is a new aviation “reality” TV series where the Kardashians will make a guest appearance as they get into aviation. What could be better?

How about recognizing airports as noise producers for the foreseeable future and zoning/purchasing property accordingly?