Archive for July, 2011

Bad Actors

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

In all walks of life there are some real jerks. On the highways or around airports they cause a disproportionate amount of grief.  Sign language between pilots is not as effective in the air as on the highways and usually doesn’t change the behavior anyway except to make it worse.

A friend operating off a small country airstrip remembered having a rogue pilot problem. This character was a very good stick with more than 20,000 hours and had flown all over the world. Arrogance was his specialty and he carved up the traffic pattern with some regularity. Cutting people off was normal behavior and he was known to takeoff before the previous aircraft had cleared the runway.

Polite interventions had no effect and a more direct approach caused him to become belligerent. Finally, a group of the pilots got together and went to the county, which owned the airport, to get him barred. Tar and feathers was considered but making it look like an accident was problematic. The pilot figured out there was strength in numbers and the odds were not good for bullying his way out, so he left to become somebody else’s problem.

While this may be an extreme case, it’s instructive. There are things that can be done with appropriate peer pressure. Let’s be clear that we’re not talking vigilante justice and occasional differences of opinion in the traffic pattern. I have always found that a little courtesy is far preferable to a potential paint swap and a bad outcome for both of us when somebody cuts into the pattern. Discuss it afterward, in calm quiet tones, which is easier said than done.  There is a fine line between an enlightening and intelligent discussion and being a busybody. We’ve talked about the pattern police before and that can be almost as bad as the rogue.

To broaden the discussion, remember that GA pilots are always watched by the media and the local community. Excessive noise, aggressive or clueless behavior that may result in an accident puts your airport that much more in the spotlight. While it gives AOPA Airports division and the Foundation much more to do—and we’re always appreciative of job security—there are better ways to accomplish that.

Epilogue to last week’s fuel mismanagement discussion.

A comment to last week’s blog mentioned the possibility of water contamination for a variety of reasons and wondered why an AD had not been issued. Air Safety Institute reviewed five years from 2005 – 2009 finding 20 fuel-contamination accidents in high-wing Cessnas.  Eight had carburetors or fuel screens clogged by substances other than water, and in three more water was found in the carburetor and gascolator but was no longer present in the tanks.

At least five of the accident aircraft had not been flown for a long time (weeks or months) before the accident, and at least three were being flown out of annual or with other known deficiencies.

Seven of the accidents were in 172s and four were in 150s.  There were two each in 152s and 182s, and one apiece in models 177RG, 180, 185, 206, and 210.  There was also one accident in a 152 that appeared to be the result of the tank outlet to the fuel lines being blocked by an unknown substance.

One of the 20 accidents was fatal, and two more caused serious injuries. The prevalence of these accidents seems to be decreasing. That could be due to any number of factors: actual change, decreasing flight hours, older aircraft moving out of the fleet. The possibilities are endless.


Lapsing into the trees

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

A few weeks ago a Cessna 182 pilot suffered an engine stoppage after takeoff. They don’t run well without fuel and the fuel selector was set to the ‘off’ position. This is one of those killer items on the before takeoff check and this pilot had a momentary lapse.

How could such an event happen? Easy! The aircraft had been in maintenance and the technician personally told the pilot that the selector was off. It was the pilot’s personal aircraft and he always left the selector on “both.” In running the checklist by rote the check wasn’t actually made and there was just enough fuel in the lines to get up to about 300 agl before the quiet began.

The happier ending was that the pilot had just installed a parachute on the Cessna and had the presence of mind to pull. Amazingly, it was enough to break most of the fall, even at such a low altitude, and the pilot came out with little or no injury. He also had the integrity to admit his lapse. Well done, sir, on several counts!

Now all of us are much too smart, disciplined, experienced (fill in the self-congratulatory adjective of choice) to make such a mistake but if you have a “friend” who might be so prone, just a few things to consider. Really verify the killer items and allow no distractions. It’s much easier said than done and use sticky notes as reminders on stuff that might get forgotten, especially after maintenance. They’re quite handy for IFR reminders as well.

Rental and club aircraft are filled with all kinds of traps and most pilots are pretty careful to check those things. It’s much easier if you’re the only one flying a particular aircraft to take things for granted.

If someone else has a nifty technique for preventing our humanity from getting in the way of safe flight, please share it.

Permission to Buzz the Airport?

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

If you’ve watched Top Gun remember that Maverick, after asking the tower for a low pass which is denied, does it anyway resulting in some spilled coffee and a lecture.  The question came up the other day regarding the legality of low passes. It’s not as straight forward as you might think and if you do it in the wrong time and place there could be an enforcement action.

The minimum altitude regulation specifies (generally) maintaining at least 1,000 feet above a person, place or thing unless the intention is to land. Clearly, a pass at high speed and/or with the landing gear up is evidence that landing wasn’t really a serious consideration.

If the airport has an operating control tower then approval is available from the tower as  in “cleared for the option” or for a low approach. At non-towered airports there is no such approval mechanism. But wait, people fly over the runway all the time. It seems to depend on context. If you’re somewhere close to landing speed in a fixed gear aircraft or the gear is down and decide to go around due to a squirrel on the runway, that’s pilot prerogative.

But if the pass is made 40 knots faster than landing speed, diving at the end of the runway followed by a steep pull up it may be a little harder to convince the inspector that you really intended to land.

John Yodice addressed this in a 2008 article, Pilot Counsel: What is a “congested area”?

It involves a Gulfstream II and the aircraft is not configured for landing. The question is do you feel lucky and are you willing to bet a suspension (never mind the occasional accident that occurs as a result of steep pull ups at the end of the pass)?  I am told you can get a waiver from FAA if this is something that you feel compelled to do – That’s a discussion to have with the FSDO.