Archive for May, 2010

Heard about the Bird?

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

geeseHeard about the Bird?

The bird is the word. Ever since Canada geese racked up a score against Sully’s Airbus in the Hudson a lot more attention has been paid to our avian friends. The military has been having bird bashes for years and it’s cost the taxpayers millions in terms of engines, canopies, airframes and occasionally lives. Ditto the civilian world but jets have a bigger issue than those of us who have a high speed rotary bird deflector (prop).

NTSB just published some recommendations on how to deal with birds – not the least of which was reminding flight crews that bird induced power off landings are a possibility even in air carrier jets. Seems like the more things change the more we wind up going back to basics.

There are two areas of interest as we come into flying season: 1) All those flocks of big birds that flew south last fall are now working back north to summer homes and 2) Nesting in parked aircraft. On a recent flight we ran into, almost literally, several flights of Canada geese that were on cardinal IFR altitudes of 3,000 and 4,000 feet. It was good VMC so we could avoid them visually but a collision with one or more of these heavies would have resulted in a lose-lose proposition.  They may have been squawking but they sure weren’t talking. ATC did provide an advisory as did several other aircraft on the frequency so bird was definitely top of mind.

For preflights this time of year, be sure to look for bird evidence. That would be straw or droppings and in either case it may be subtle. At a recent safety seminar we heard of a PA28 that had landed with an undiscovered nest atop the engine. In flight there was enough airflow/cooling  to prevent combustion but  fire erupted as the aircraft taxied in. Apparently, no fire extinguisher was handy on board or at the FBO (Hmmm) and the fire brigade had to be called. It was a very expensive lesson on the importance on bird awareness during preflight.

Here’s the link to ASF website on Bird bash pix and stories. Anybody have an educational bird encounter to share?

Not my Fault, Mon!

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Pilot-Cert-1“Accountability”  seems to be a most popular word these days,whether it refers to banks, government officials, oil company executives or pilots. The NTSB is hosting a forum this week on pilot professionalism which presumably will include a heavy dosage of accountability.  I admit to being confused because I always thought that the PIC title conferred that – no questions asked, regardless of the size of the aircraft or the part of the regulations under which the flight was conducted.

The professional side of the business generally does a very good job and their safety record proves it but there have been some very high profile lapses in past several years that obviously have attracted scrutiny.

The laptop lapse in the Airbus that over flew Minneapolis was irritating. A quote from a well-known captain in the NY Times: “Something in the system allowed these well-trained, experienced, well-meaning, well-intentioned pilots not to notice where they were, and we need to find out what the root causes are, he said. Simply to blame individual practitioners is wrong and it doesn’t solve the underlying issues or prevent it from happening.”

How is it the system’s fault when two professional pilots in a perfectly functioning aircraft manage to forget that they are flying eastbound at over 400 knots and should be landing soon? When do individual practitioners who are placed in position of absolute authority and there are two of them to be sure that they are looking out for each other, come to be accountable?

The Colgan accident had numerous failures from an undisciplined Captain who apparently didn’t understand the reasoning for sterile cockpits. He also didn’t quite get the importance of monitoring approach airspeeds and the autopilot while on a night IFR approach. Those are individual failures because I’m certain the airline Ops specs called for different behavior. However, the airline didn’t think that training in envelope protection was essential for pilots new to the aircraft – that is a systemic flaw.

In light aircraft with largely single pilot operations, we don’t have as many opportunities to blame “the system “ except possibly ATC. You ARE the system and when there is a systemic problem and it wasn’t a self-inflicted wound, please file an ASRS report. Even if it was your own doing – we can all learn from such incidents.

It’s said the road to Hell is paved with good intentions and best wishes. Unlike felony law where intention does make a difference, gravity and Newtonian physics make no distinctions – it’s all about avoiding the edges of the airspace and other aircraft. I will be curious to see how this NTSB professionalism forum plays out and there may well be some good ideas that come from it. But forgiveness is divine and no one flies without fault. The system should not be blamed and complex solutions proposed when the core problem resides in the mirror.

What Part of “Cloud” Don’t you Understand?

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

act4.4cloudheightThis has got to be one of the most chewed-over topics in aviation. Pilots who are either not instrument rated or rated but not on file, somehow find themselves in clouds and then not surprisingly often find that the ground or an obstacle has risen to ensnare the aircraft.

Most of these mishaps perhaps should not be called  accidents in the technical sense of the word. Webster’s Dictionary defines accident as “an unforeseen or unplanned event.” Launching on a visual flight when the ceilings are running 400-600 agl and visibilities a mile or so doesn’t really strike me as “unforeseen.” Webster goes on to list  the second definition of accident as “An unfortunate event resulting from careless or ignorance.”  That starts to get to the heart of the matter and both those adjectives are not something that pilots should aspire to.

The 2009 Joseph T. Nall Report shows 21 VFR into IMC deals and 86% or 18 were fatal.  All 21 are shown on ASF’s interactive map with  links to each accident report from there.  If you were looking for a quick way into the next life  –  this is one of the quickest and reading the narratives confirms the lunacy of such thinking.

Naturally, ASF has numerous resources to help one  not to get into the careless and ignorant category.  But how many times have you been given a VFR not recommended (VNR) forecast – decided to take a look and found the weather perfectly flyable? This becomes the basis of many pilots’ decision-making and it serves them well for awhile. But if you’re going to play the “let’s take a look”  game it’s essential able to 1) recognize clouds when you see them and 2) be willing to turn around or land BEFORE getting into them.

We would be curious about your VNR experiences, pro and con, as I will be speaking with the National Weather Service later this month.