Archive for 2009

The “Impossible” Turn?

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

Impossible Turn RPSLast week ASF posted a new Real Pilot Story, The Impossible Turn. Most will know this as an attempt to return to the airport during an engine failure right after takeoff. The conventional wisdom is to look for something soft and cheap to hit out ahead of the aircraft that involves minimal maneuvering to lessen the chance of a fatal stall.

We have ample evidence that a poorly executed turn or an attempt at too low an altitude is disastrous. What we don’t know is how many people successfully pulled it off because there are no statistics on the positive side. Sorry, but local hangar flying does not quite qualify as a reliable source even as the story gets better with each retelling!

In the unusual case of Mooney pilot, Dave Keller, he had just installed a video camera in his Mooney when the engine quit right after takeoff. He estimated he was perhaps 500 feet AGL. We couldn’t have paid Dave enough to do this on purpose -it was all captured, accidentally, on video. Dave did a fantastic job and had many things going for him. See for yourself in the Real Pilot Story above.

AOPA writer Barry Schiff wrote about the impossible turn some years ago and actually did some testing to show when it might work. There are lots of caveats. We had quite a discussion at ASF on how to present Dave’s experience. There are times when the impossible turn may be quite possible and others when it would be a really bad idea. Perhaps some more testing should be done to identify those situations. What do you think?

If you see an aircraft on the Runway…..

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

7-1 introRunway safety – a continuing saga? Yes, and so it should be. Some may be tired of hearing about it but the facts are that from 2003 through 2008 there were between 24 and 32 Category A or B incursions annually. A & Bs are the bad ones where either exceptional skill, some luck or likely a bit of both prevented a catastrophe.

It was my privilege to represent GA and to speak at the FAA’s International Runway Safety Conference in DC this week along with two NTSB members, The airlines, airport operators air traffic controllers – in short anyone who had anything to do with keeping aircraft and vehicles from getting together on runways was there.

Many things were discussed but here’s what should be of interest to pilots:

1. Moving map displays are a nice addition to any cockpit to help you reference location but remember to look outside.

2. If there’s even the slightest bit of uncertainty, verify with the tower that you are cleared to cross or enter a runway.

3. ALWAYS look even though you’ve been cleared to cross, takeoff or land – it’s saved me several times.

3. Distraction is deadly – avoid multi-tasking and don’t be programing the magic while the aircraft is moving unless there’s another pilot on board and one of you is looking outside.

4. Complacency is deadly – think it can’t happen to you ? Ask anyone of the roughly 900 pilots who had a deviation last year. They have a different opinion – now.

The good news is that for 2009 the A’s and B’s are down to about 12 but it’s too soon to tell if that’s due to reduced flight hours or that we’re starting to get a handle on this.

Runway Safety 2009If you have a runway safety suggestion, share it even for non-towered airports. It was only last week we were discussing traffic patterns there and check out the new runway safety course that FAA Office of Runway Safety was kind enough to sponsor. I guarantee you’ll learn something even if you’ve taken our earlier version. I did. If you’ve got a practical test or a flight review soon this is strongly recommended – chances are excellent inquiring minds will want to know.

Check out these additional ASF resources on Runway Safety:

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Turkey of a Pattern

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

turkeyAs our thoughts turn to Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that a maneuver I witnessed last weekend at a very busy non-towered airport didn’t test Newton’s second law . As I was waiting in the lineup for takeoff , the frequency was abuzz with everyone reporting various legs in perfect VFR weather. A Mooney on base leg apparently didn’t see the Cirrus flying a much wider base. He should have but didn’t.

The Mooney turned final as did the Cirrus and both announced but nobody, it seems, was looking or listening.  The Cirrus rapidly overtook the Mooney and it looked like there would be widely scattered composite and aluminum in the forecast. I advised the Cirrus pilot that he had a Mooney at his 12 o’clock low on final.

Most pilots would have acknowledged, sidestepped to the right to keep the traffic ahead in sight and started a climb straight ahead to re-enter downwind at least midfield or beyond.  This particular runway has right traffic. The Cirrus pilot announced he was starting a left 360 so as to re-enter on final from the left side. I probably overstepped my bounds by again advising the Cirrus that he would come head-to-head with another aircraft on right base. Unfazed, the Cirrus pilot tucked in closely behind a Cessna that was following the Mooney. The second aircraft may have “just” cleared the runway when the Cirrus touched down. It was an astounding piece of airmanship!

After reflecting on this for 48 hours, here are some observations:  Midair collisions are rare – average less than 10 per year. They are often serious with fatalities on one or both aircraft. They frequently result in significant reactions from media and the non-flying public even if the wreckage doesn’t cause significant ground damage. Remember the Hudson collision?  It was the first one in the corridor in 45 years and the changes are far reaching. This situation had huge negative potential for this airport based on this pilot’s spur-of-the-moment decision to take a shortcut.

Here are two Safety Advisors for review:

Operations at Non-Towered Airports ( PDF) and

Collision Avoidance ( PDF)

I’m asking for your opinions as a sounding board:

1. I should have kept quiet after the first warning. Nothing wrong with a 360 – There’s no rule against it -and it all worked out.

2. The Cirrus pilot should have flown a normal miss and re-entered the downwind. Get out the tar and feathers – track down the miscreant and make him read the AIM cover to cover!

3. Other — you’ll have to do some writing here.

Don’t lurk -lock in your votes and if you have a chance,  go flying this holiday. Heads up – eyes out!