Archive for September, 2010

Smoke in the cockpit

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Untitled-2A UPS 747-400 freighter crashed in Dubai last week after attempting at least one and possibly two approaches in VFR conditions. It’s early in the investigation so my usual disclaimer applies – It’s never too early to speculate and these comments may be completely off base. The crew reported smoke in the cockpit and returned to airport of origin. They were aloft for quite awhile after declaring the problem as opposed to diverting to some reportedly closer airports. So let the Monday morning quarterbacking begin.

If this had worked out the crew would have been hailed as decision-making heroes. It didn’t – so there will likely be some responsibility/blame somewhere. Would a divert to a closer airport worked better? Too soon to say. The flight was aloft for about 30 minutes after the crew declared an emergency – this was about 20 minutes after takeoff.

I’ll offer some opinions and you can feel free to chime in: Fire anywhere on an aircraft outside the engine(s) combustion chamber is a very big deal. It does bad things to the airframe and the occupants – often very quickly.  Late reports indicate that the fire may have started in the cargo area. Kind of makes you think about what you might be carrying.  Freighter crews do not have the luxury of knowing for sure and must depend on the integrity of the shippers and the handlers that hazmat materials are appropriately marked and managed.

I’ve never had a fire on board but the  general guidance is to get it on the ground – quickly. According to a Wall St. Journal article there are about 1,000 reported fires or smoke on board transport category aircraft annually. Obviously this ranges from minor smoke smell to the real McCoy . Most of the time it all works out but this time not.

SB08The NASCAR Cessna 310 landmark accident in Florida perfectly illustrates the point. On electrical fires the guidance these days is that when a circuit breaker pops – do NOT reset unless it is flight critical. There was a reason for an overload to occur and that troubleshooting should take place on the ground. Fuel fires, burning tires, and cabin fires are no less critical.

We  would be curious to hear of any smoke or fire experiences from you or from pilots you know. My sense is that treating these problems as a very big deal is appropriate. Things can go from “not too bad” to “Aw Shucks” in less than a minute or two.

Not So Gentle Reminder

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

propellerIt was a really bad day in Beverly Massachusetts on Saturday when the Chief Flight Instructor of Beverly Flight Center was fatally injured by a propeller. Early reports noted that Michael Costales – age 30,  taxied into the run up area for runway 34 in a Piper Warrior with a student on board. He noticed that one of the Flight Center’s LSAs, also in the run up area with a CFI and student aboard,  had an improperly secured canopy and went to assist. Tragically, he tangled with a prop.

Nall09Costales reportedly had been flying for 10 years and had about 2,700 hours. As noted in the 2009 Nall Report, there were 4 total prop/rotor strike accidents in 2008. Usually these accidents involve passengers who are not prop savvy either exiting or boarding aircraft with the engine running. Hand propping to start the engine also often leads to mishap especially on aircraft that weren’t designed for it.

Full disclosure:  I’ve have boarded and exited aircraft with the engine running and it’s not good procedure – however expedient it may have seemed at the time. My speculation is that Mr. Costales was so concerned for the safety of the other aircraft and so focused on that,  he forgot that engines were running

Ramp-SafetyThere were almost two certainly two common denominators in this accident – complacency and distraction. They are present in almost any kind of human mishap. When we spend a lot of time around aircraft we tend to get comfortable.  Don’t!  When we’re distracted  it may be the nearest little alligator that has us for dinner not the big guy on the far side of the pond.

We need to look out for each other and that includes polite and respectful safety reminders when a potentially hazardous situation develops. Would a radio call have sufficed to alert the other pilot? Perhaps they had done that already. More details will be forthcoming but this young life was lost due a moment’s inattention

Sincere condolences to Mr. Costales’ family and friends, his students and to the Beverly flying community.  Please beware Propellers – tell your friends !