Archive for April, 2008

Tired – Again

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

You may have read that the pilots of the go! airlines regional jet were fired after they overflew Hilo on the short flight from Honolulu. The explanation, at this point in the investigation, was that both crew members were asleep and failed to respond to repeated ATC calls for descent.

Contrary to the usual profile of a hard days night after flying all day, this incident occurred mid morning and while it may be amusing to some, especially since no injury or damage was done, the FAA and industry should look at the root cause. You couldn’t find a much more contentious issue between airline management and pilots than duty time requirements – except perhaps money.

The FAA has rules in place but some question how effective they really are in preventing both acute and chronic fatigue. There is ample anecdotal evidence that many crews are really tired. The same applies to charter operators.

You might say it’s not GA’s problem unless you happen to be sitting in the back of a jet behind one these somnambulistic crews but my reason to understand fatigue better is that it may play a significant part in GA flight operations as well.

GA Night accident rates are significantly higher than day and we have occasions where “capable and competent” pilots just lost it. Why? Hypoxia? Yes, I’ll buy that. Fatigue – yep and based on the number of car and truck accidents due to fatigue, I’d say it was a factor in quite a number of GA accidents. How many? Can’t answer that since it doesn’t leave any markers and dead pilots tell no tales.

It’s something that the AOPA Air Safety Foundation may take a look at in the future. Would sure appreciate your response to the following:

A. Not a problem for me – never fly fatigued

B. Not a problem for me – but I have friends who have done so

C. I’ve had at least one instance where my performance was significantly degraded due to fatigue

D. It’s happened several times.

A Ship in Harbor is Safe…

Monday, April 21st, 2008

But that’s not what ships are for. So wrote John Shedd noting that in the pursuit of commerce, business or transport occasionally a vessel was lost. To go out on the wide waters, or to take to the sky, inherently involves some level of risk. And the flip side is that we all too often see the aftermath of a poor choice

A flying friend asked if was it prudent to tackle a strong cold front on the trip back from Sun N’ Fun. (Air Safety e-Journal April 14, 2008) The easy answer, often heard around airports is “ Walked away from it didn’t we?” That poor rationalization can be used to justify any poor judgment that had a successful outcome, whether it is a bad landing where the aircraft is still usable, to a low altitude buzz job.

My thought process: We had functional datalink, which allowed a roughly 5-minute update of the weather – not good for close quarters tactical maneuvers but adequate for general avoidance. There were several fairly open areas in the line where we went through. Farther north, it was solid – no way Jose.

Having flown around many thunderstorms and always having a plan B has proven to be a good strategy for me. Unfortunately, you can’t learn thunderstorm flying by reading books, taking online courses or reading blogs. It is learned by careful observation with mentor pilots and by flying around

There’s a Catch 22 in weather decision-making. The more you need or want to go, the greater chance you’ll make an over-aggressive choice. Postpone or cancel. When the trip is not urgent then it’s time to fly.

Crosswinds –Again

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

Nothing seems to create more ink or anguish than the subject of crosswind landings. The FAA says, “The longitudinal axis of the airplane must be parallel to the direction of travel.” This is an engineer’s way of saying the wheels and the landing gear won’t take it kindly if you touch down sideways.

As you’ll read from the other blogs and readers, there are only basically two ways to do this: slip or crab. It’s all a matter of timing and proficiency. For new pilots, most instructors will recommend the slip or wing low method, which gives them time to line up, get a feel for the wind and the control pressures, and then decide if they and the aircraft can manage. The crab or “kickout at the last minute” requires good timing and a relationship with the aircraft.

The most common error that I’ve observed is that everyone does fine until they start the flare and then forget to hold the wing down through the landing because in non-crosswind conditions we’re always told to keep the wings level.

It’s hard to arrange a crosswind for practice where and when you need and not be contrary to traffic at a nontowered airport. The best way to manage this that I’ve found in busier parts of the country is to go to a nearby towered airport, if one is reasonably close, on a windy day and work the crosswind runway.

No need for me to belabor here as you’ll read, in depth, all the tips, secrets, and “guaranteed” methods that imagination and experience can conjure. Just keep in mind that we bend more metal in crosswind landing accidents than almost any other phase of flight, and action will always speak louder than hangar flying.

Happy Landings ….