Archive for August, 2012

Stuff Your CFII May Not Have Told You*

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

At AOPA Summit in Palm Springs this year, I’ll have the privilege of pontificating before a group of pilots regarding the real world of IFR. The topic is target rich. An extremely capable and dedicated retired Air Force colonel, who had flown all over the world, was my CFII. Couldn’t have asked for better, but our little airport did not have an instrument approach, so there was very little actual instrument time. The ticket, as with so many of us, was only the beginning. I’m asking for your thoughts on items you learned after leaving the IFR training nest.

I keenly remember the first real IMC flight with a friend, Buddy, who had also been recently trained by the colonel. Piper Comanches were new to me, but Buddy asked if I’d act as co-pilot since he’d committed to fly Sister Mary Catherine from the DC area up to Scranton, Pa. The weather was easy IMC with ceilings of about 800 feet and tops well above anything we could cruise at. No thunder or ice—just light rain. The Comanche had fuel enough for two round trips to Canada with an alternate in Ohio, if needed.

Sister climbed in the back, giving no indication that she felt at all uneasy. As we entered the clouds, Buddy and I looked at each other knowing that this was what we had trained for and wasn’t it cool (secretly being a bit apprehensive—couldn’t put your foot on the bottom of the pool anymore). The flight was uneventful other than the fact that Buddy and I kept the aircraft aloft with sheer energy. Lycoming couldn’t hold a candle to the horsepower the two of us were exuding. He watched me, I watched him, we watched each other, ATC watched us, and we surmised that we should be watching them. We probably could have walked on a bed of hot coals and not felt it. Upon return, we found a hole coming over the airport and landed uneventfully. Maybe all this IFR stuff was a bit overrated, or perhaps Sister MC had exerted some Divine Influence. We’ll never know.

Not so fast! In the coming months and years, I learned about icing, how a sector’s comm frequency can go down, how thunderstorms need great respect, that controllers make a few mistakes and largely put their pants on one leg at a time, and sometimes that the PIC really needs to exercise that authority. I learned that fuel is your friend. So is an HSI. So is an autopilot, but only if intelligently used. I learned that weather is what you find, not what is forecast. Lots of stuff that wasn’t immediately obvious in the training world.

In any case, I’d welcome short vignettes on things you learned flying IMC that your CFI may not have told you. Winning submissions will be publicly called out at Summit or held anonymously if you prefer. The asterisk? Maybe stuff you were told and just forgot—I’m told that happens but always to someone else!


No Greater Burden

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Most of us don’t think much about the aftermath of an aircraft accident. The energy is usually put into avoiding one in the first place. But the reality is that sometimes bad things happen to good pilots, and it doesn’t have to be a big mistake that will permanently and tragically alter your lifescape.

Our newest video, No Greater Burden: Surviving an Aircraft Accident, talks about that reality.

The Air Safety Institute works diligently to educate the general aviation community on prevention and the critical paths to flight safety, but this project was different. The story is compelling, and it isn’t a retelling of basic bone-headedness or just an “ill-considered act.” The simple lapse that caused this accident had much deeper roots, and unlike many very serious accidents, we got the rare opportunity to understand what the pilot was thinking.

The 32-minute documentary was underwritten by pilot and AOPA member Russ Jeter who shared his deepest insights into what it means to be pilot-in-command. I’ve always had a strong sense of responsibility toward flying, long before beginning a career in GA safety, but Russ’ story added to my commitment to be the best I can be. We hope it will do the same for you. Please let me know if we succeeded.

You can watch the video here.


Density Altitude and the Sudden Stop.

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012
crash cam Stinson 108

Stinson 108 that crashed not long after takeoff in Idaho

Rip Van Winkle would have had a hard time sleeping through the media blitz last week that centered on “crash cam” footage of a Stinson 108 that crashed not long after takeoff in Idaho this June. Major media outlets picked it up including CNN Piers Morgan’s interview of one of the passengers who survived without injury.

Three things stood out:

1. The pilot badly overestimated the ability of a 165-horsepower aircraft to take off and climb out at an estimated density altitude of 8,800’ msl with four adult males on board.

2. The lead up to the accident was subtle if you didn’t know what was happening. Everything moved in slow motion right up to impact. Gradually rising terrain combined with a slight downdraft, according to the pilot, shows what happens when an aircraft comes to a sudden stop in the trees. That isn’t subtle.

3. On CNN, at least, Morgan was quite restrained and didn’t make any wild statements regarding the overall safety of GA. But these types of incidents do nothing to enhance the image of GA among the non-flying public. The crash cam reinforces the bad experience.

Comments by pilots posted on the video site dispel the myth that the system or the aircraft was in any way to blame. The close-ups of the badly injured pilot were gratuitous. But it makes the case for harnesses and airbags that should be retrofitted to older aircraft and likely would have prevented most of the pilot’s injuries. The FAA has largely resolved the safety retrofit impediments, so the perfect installation isn’t the enemy of the good.

The first upgrade that I installed to a 1965 Mooney I used to fly was shoulder harnesses. The value of head and face seemed more important than some of the other goodies that I might have rationalized to install first. Aircraft without front seat shoulder harnesses make me nervous.

Density altitude is an abstract concept until it is demonstrated. Take off and climb at a 50 percent power setting (because that’s about how much power you’ll have for real) from a long runway. You will be amazed at how long it takes to get airborne and how slooooowly the machine climbs. You won’t forget how even a powerful sea-level engine is reduced to wimpiness.

The Air Safety Institute has several resources to help pilots: the Mountain Flying online course, the Density Altitude safety quiz, the Decision Making for Pilots safety advisor, and the Do the Right Thing online course.