Archive for 2011

What Happens in Vegas…

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

I spent this past Sunday in Las Vegas at the Single-Pilot Safety Standdown, held in conjunction with the NBAA Convention. There were presentations on how to fly single-pilot better. Dr. Earl Weener, a NTSB Board Member, recounted an accident of an overloaded PC-12 that crashed in Montana because the pilot neglected to use anti-icing additives in the fuel and then delayed way too long in diverting to another airport when it became obvious that the aircraft would not stay aloft to the destination. There were 13 fatalities.

My presentation was on runway excursions, which was discussed in last month’s AOPA Pilot. One area that we talked about, and was a recurrent theme in most of the presentations, was the ever-present human factors.

Here are some for your consideration:

  • Ignorance
  • Fatigue
  • Skill
  • Distraction
  • Complacency
  • Arrogance

As I thought about it, these elements are present in every flight to varying degrees. Not every one, every time but at varying times – it’s part of the human condition.

They are most certainly present in accident flights in different amounts. Have you thought about which one might be prominent in your cockpit as you fly along, and how you would compensate?

I hadn’t looked at these attributes quite that way before and I can think of circumstances in my own flying where there was perhaps just a bit too much luck involved.

How about you?

The Dangers of Flight Test

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

There should be no question that flight testing a new design is a much higher risk than routine flight. This falls into the “duh” category and yet the statistics of extremely high risk flight is lumped into GA’s accident rate. My interview with NTSB members Chris Hart and Earl Weener at AOPA Summit touched on this point.

GA is a diverse activity and that must be recognized. The single number fatal accident rate statistic is misleading. Two case studies:

Narrative Type: NTSB FINAL NARRATIVE (6120.4)
The pilot was performing high speed taxi tests in an experimental category airplane that he had designed and built. The airplane was configured with a T-tail, a canard wing forward of the cockpit with elevator control surfaces, and had two 28-hp engines mounted facing aft along the trailing edge of the wings in a pusher type design. The main landing gear were located forward of the engine nacelles. To address a lack of pitch response experienced during previous tests, the pilot had increased the size of the canard control surfaces, and moved the center of gravity further aft. During the first taxi run the electronic flight information system (EFIS) recorded a maximum pitch of 9 degrees, and maximum airspeed of 67 knots. During the test run that precipitated the accident, the airplane became airborne at the end of the taxi run and rose to about 122 feet above ground level (agl), entered a right-hand turn, stalled, and impacted terrain in a flat attitude. Audible engine sounds could be heard from the airplane throughout the event and the recorded data supported normal engine operation. The last 16 seconds of data recovered from the EFIS corroborated the witness reports, recording the airplane pitching up suddenly from 8 degrees to 45 degrees, the airspeed decaying from 55 to 22 knots, and then entering a rapid vertical descent. A colleague of the pilot stated that in this pusher configured airplane where the propellers are located aft of the main landing gear, a sudden reduction in thrust could cause a pitch up rotation moment around the main landing gear when on the ground….

At the other end of the GA spectrum was the loss of a Gulfstream 650 prototype in Roswell, NM resulting in four fatalities. According to NTSB’s preliminary report “Wingtip scrape marks beginning on the runway approximately 5,300 feet from the end of the runway lead toward the final resting spot about 3,800 feet from the first marks on the runway. Witnesses close to the scene saw the airplane sliding on the ground with sparks and smoke coming from the bottom of the wing, and described the airplane being fully involved in fire while still moving across the ground. The airplane struck several obstructions and came to rest upright about 200 feet from the base of the airport control tower.”

In my opinion, these two accidents do not belong in the general GA file, just as the Reno air race accident should be in its own category. We agree with EAA that amateur built and experimental aircraft in the flight test phase need to be treated separately.

The two areas where the emphasis should be placed are on personal flight and amateur built aircraft that have completed the flight test phase. Both these activities have opportunity for improvement. Exactly how that should be done is something of a challenge as I’ve pointed out in previous articles. There’s plenty of first class safety education material readily available for anyone willing to learn from the mistakes and mishaps of the past. For some pilots, they apparently lack the will to live.

What Does it Take?

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

As you’ve probably heard by now, GA is on the NTSB’s most wanted list.  At AOPA Summit in Hartford this week, it will be a topic of discussion when I interview NTSB Vice Chair Chris Hart and member Earl Weener, both active GA pilots, on AOPA Live.  The GA accident rate is flat and it is disproportionately high in the personal flight category relative to the estimated number of hours flown.

One solution that comes up regularly is that “of reaching the unreachables.”  Unfortunately, that is a paradox or self-contradictory statement. For your consideration of the challenge, here is a informal review of a flight that took place last week at our home base of Frederick, a nontowered airport. The witness statement is from an Air Safety Institute staff member:

“Last evening at about 7:30, Bob and I were working late.  At the time, there was a thunderstorm sitting more or less directly over the airport, producing fairly heavy rain (though not a great deal of wind) and a lot of lightning—there were multiple strikes on the field, within half a mile of AOPA. Bob was standing outside watching the storm, and I ran from my car to meet him….and probably 30 seconds later we heard an aircraft engine, and watched a Cessna 172 depart Rwy 30, climbing rather anemically off to the northwest…..We noted the time, and grabbed the radar image.”

There was a severe thunderstorm warning and convective Sigmet in effect and the C172 was NOT on an IFR flight plan according to FlightAware. Fatal accident chain was well under way.  What part of thunderstorm, what part of cloud and rain (reduced visibility – IMC), what part of lightning strike did this pilot not understand? To be sure, the AWOS was reporting VFR conditions and it was looking better to the west. Does anyone remember the Jessica Dubroff accident?

  • Was this done from ignorance – The pilot was unaware of the risk?
  • Was this done from arrogance – I know the risk but I can handle it?
  • Was this done from complacency – I’ve been in situations like this before?

One of the above or all of the above? How badly would “the mission” that this flight was surely on, have been impaired by delaying another 20 minutes to let the cell move off?

I’d sure like the benefit of his or her thought processes. There has to be some logic here — somewhere. Ignorance we can and should fix although my sense is the pilot knew the risk. The other two attributes are really difficult to change without significant interference to the freedom of flight . What do you think?