Archive for January, 2011

GA should stand proud

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Last week’s medical transfer of wounded Congress woman Gabrielle Giffords by two GA aircraft perfectly illustrates the use of our nation’s air transportation system. One of the major initiatives of the AOPA Foundation is to promote and improve the image of GA. I never miss an opportunity these days when speaking to both pilot group and non-pilot groups to remind everyone about the benefits of GA. The staple of media reports, relative to GA, typically focuses on crashes or community airports that are perceived as safety hazards, noisy or playgrounds of the rich.

Now is a perfect time to point out the value and diversity of GA flight operations. One size does not fit all in clothing, government or transportation options. (I speak from experience in all three areas but don’t ask about the great clothing incident!) Those who tout the airlines as the sole air transport modality sure weren’t in evidence last week and for good reason. As good a job as the carriers do – transporting the gravely injured congress woman was not something they could have done well. We (you and I) should be pointing out that there was nothing unusual about last week’s flight – those types of flights happen hundreds of times a week. There are tens of thousands of charity flights annually for almost unlimited humanitarian purposes. There are millions of flights transporting all kinds of people, packages and every kind of etcetera directly to their destinations safely and efficiently. And please show me any transportation mode that does not have occasional mishaps.

There’s no need to be defensive about the use of GA for personal transportation? I would venture that many of GA’s most vocal detractors have personal automobiles, motorcycles and/or boats. Too often the public option just doesn’t do the job well especially when the airlines serve less than 10% of the nation’s public use airports. Why is travel and recreation above the earth’s surface treated differently from a policy or media perspective than surface modes? I’d like to know.

Make a point this week to let your non-flying friends and acquaintances know that GA is making a difference in this country every day in so many ways. In fact, let’s make a habit to do this every week. The U.S. is the last country to have any sizable GA segment at all and that’s because we have the freedom to fly and the conviction to stand up for it. In the Immortal word’s of Harrison Ford, ” Let’s keep it that way!”

Precautionary Landing or Really Good Luck?

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

There are days and nights when we just shouldn’t be flying and some of us try it anyway. VFR into IMC still claims too many lives. In the 2009 Nall Report there were 21  such accidents and 18 were fatal.  At 86%,  not many VFR types who fly into the gossamer web of clouds get to fly or do anything again. Compared to the overall GA fatality rate, VFR into IMC is one of the most deadly.

A recent accident involved a C-172 that crash landed in a pasture very near an airport around 10:45 in the evening.  The aircraft flipped over with the pilot apparently trapped inside. It was discovered the next morning around 0800.

The pilot was seriously injured but his dog was running around outside the aircraft, so the touchdown was relatively soft and in a normal attitude.  The area was said to be covered in dense fog.

As usual, we’re in speculation mode. There could be a mechanical problem, fuel mismanagement, or something else but two thoughts for your consideration:

1. If this was an inadvertent touchdown -  just flying along trying to stay visual under the clouds at night and BUMP – the aircraft is on the ground upside down – that is phenomenal good luck !

2. If this was a precautionary landing where the pilot recognized that he’d badly overplayed his hand and needed to make the best out of a mess, then it was a belatedly good and live-saving decision.

Few pilots consider deliberate off-airport landings. In case after case, and unfortunately there aren’t that many, when a pilot admits he or she is in way too deep and chooses to crash, there is usually little injury except to the ego.

The aircraft gets somewhat damaged but the occupants invariably get to fly again. The Air Safety Institute has a real pilot story, VFR in a Snowstorm, that shows this saves lives.

Much better not to have to make the choice, but if other options are going down the tubes, what’s in your emergency toolkit?

A bad roll and equally bad commentary

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Good instructors strive to create realism while not creating an actual emergency that they or the student may not be up to handling. Last June a Beech Duke crashed on takeoff as it collided with trees adjacent to the airport. The 49 year old owner, a commercial pilot of some 20 years, was taking an instrument proficiency check (IPC) with a CFI. According to the NTSB’s preliminary report, an hour was spent discussing general procedures and aircraft systems  (an unorthodox approach to an IPC which is a review on IFR procedures) followed by an hour of flight instruction. At the end of the hour, the the 69 year old CFI and pilot discussed finishing the check and the pilot opted to continue.

According to the accident report,” A second flight segment was initiated, and the pilot commenced the takeoff while the flight instructor controlled the throttles. The pilot reported that after liftoff, about 200 feet above the ground, the flight instructor retarded the left throttle at 85 to 88 knots. The airplane began to veer to the left, and the pilot reached for the left throttle to add power; however, the flight instructor’s hands remained on the throttles. The pilot recalled a visible split in the throttle positions. The airplane continued to roll to the left and the pilot was able to level the wings just prior to the impact with trees. After ground impact, the airplane caught fire.” Sadly, the CFI did not survive.

The minimum control airspeed on the Duke is around 85 knots and typically the safe single engine speed (Vsse) will be about 10 -15 knots faster. This is the slowest that one should be intentionally demonstrating or practicing to prevent what happened above. During my multi-engine instructor training as a Cessna factory demo pilot we adhered to this religiously to keep things from getting out of hand. You want to get closer to the edge? Get into a good simulator.

Cessna used Vsse as the target rotation speed and then it was only a few knots to go to blue line, best single engine rate of climb speed. At that point there was perhaps a fighting chance to continue. Other twin manufacturers often used VMC plus 5 knots. That ostensibly helped their marketing departments claim a few hundred feet shorter takeoff run but that’s a fool’s game and most experienced twin pilots value their posteriors more.

The other noteworthy item regarding this accident was a comment made to the local newspaper; ” Beechcraft 60s are difficult  planes  to fly” said XXX, who has been a pilot for 35 years. “They’re short; they’ve got big, powerful engines, which makes them pitch-sensitive,” he said. “They’re definitely not for the novice.” That’s not at all media-savvy so,  to improve the image of GA a few recommendations:

  • After an accident – don’t speculate on the cause or the talents of the pilot(s) involved.
  • All certificated aircraft have to meet specific standards and they are all controllable when flown inside the envelope. They are not controllable outside the envelope.
  • Unsubstantiated opinion, rumor and innuendo, while the staple of so-called news outlets these days is just that – DON’T feed the beast! GA will be better off even if you didn’t get a juicy soundbite on TV or in the paper.

Don’t create actual emergencies in training. Reach an understanding with the CFI before takeoff.  With a sophisticated aircraft that you likely  know it better than the CFI unless he or she is a specialist. Choose your training provider carefully. Some emergencies are practiced safely only by simulation regardless of the knowledge or talent of the instructor.

Much better not to voice opinions to media, other than to offer concern for the victims. Early pithy “analysis” seldom adds anything to the investigation and is often wrong. A good story with compelling video is literally golden and factual veracity is often a casualty.The public interest of future prevention is best served first through investigation – then is the time for accurate dissemination!