Archive for April, 2013


Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

runwayWe live by acronyms in aviation and even more so in the Twitter/text/smartphone world, thus the cryptic title regarding the loss of a Cessna 210 while landing at the Williamsburg, Va., airport (KJGG). The airport itself has a very good safety record with just two accidents dating back to 1983 not counting this one.

The runway is 3,200 feet long and generally unobstructed. The 4,300 hour pilot, an Air Force general who was accomplished in heavy military aircraft, was flying his personal Cessna 210 that he had presumably owned since 1994 accompanied by his wife and their black Lab. As the flight approached the airport, the KJGG METAR reported 192055Z AUTO 18014G28KT 10SM CLR 28/19 A2975. VFR conditions with some fairly gusty winds.

All commentary is speculative since the accident just happened. The right-hand traffic pattern specified for Runway 13, which the pilot was flying, had a significant tailwind on base leg. Could that have created the illusion of a high airspeed when in fact it’s the groundspeed that was high? From the NTSB’s preliminary report:

“According to witnesses, the airplane passed beyond the extended runway centerline when the pilot reported on the common traffic advisory frequency that he was turning from the airport pattern base leg to final approach for runway 13. The pilot executed a steep right turn towards the runway, and the airplane pitched down and descended at a steep angle behind a tree line.” 

There were no survivors and the engine appeared to be developing power.

Texting shorthand doesn’t begin to convey the tragedy in this accident.

Acronym translation: Monday Morning Quarterbacking on Base-To-Final Loss of Control. The handheld GPS may provide some additional insight, but the illusion of speed from a strong tailwind has caused many a pilot to tip it up on a wing so as to not overshoot the runway. High groundspeed will result in a wider turn radius as we all remember from turns around a point. Natural reaction is to steepen the bank to hit the centerline.

There’s a natural tendency to pull back to offset the rapid settling that the aircraft will develop. G-loads and AOA increase quickly and before one can say, “Oh, shucks!” the lift is gone and controlled flight is but a memory with no chance of recovery.

A strong tailwind on base is not something we see that often, and if it isn’t top of mind, the accident chain can be really short. Perhaps we shouldn’t be congratulating ourselves that we’re all much too smart to ever make such a mistake.

Remember, a tailwind BTF turn is a BFD (Big Fat Deal…or something like that) and gravity can bite hard and fast.

V/$ = New Pilots & More Safety

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

airplaneDave Hirschman, AOPA Pilot’s senior editor, and I frequently commiserate on the high cost of flying. For too long the industry has tried to avoid the fact that new piston aircraft are priced above what most of the market can afford. There’s a saying that goes, “It isn’t what you pay, it’s what you get that equals value.”  My observation is that what we pay for new airplanes has increased significantly over the past decades while the transportation and recreation value of aircraft has improved marginally. That leaves us with elastic demand and significantly fewer pilots at higher costs. The business model is on life support, and we wonder why more people don’t want to fly?

Dave will expound more in an article he’s doing for Pilot on the electronic ignition installed on his experimental RV-4. As you might suspect, the Lycoming really likes it. It starts easier, burns less gas in cruise, runs smoother, and can use automotive spark plugs at about one tenth the cost of the approved aviation equivalent. What’s not to like? More reliable than the old mags? There’s a fair chance that they are.

It should be noted that the FAA’s Small Airplane Directorate, AOPA, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, and others are working feverishly on reforming FAR Part 23 certification as it applies to simple aircraft. All I can say is make all haste because the sales of manufactured light aircraft are almost non-existent and so far, we haven’t figured how to fly without wings. I’ve spoken to many potential pilots who would learn to fly immediately, but they are priced out.


Moving onto safety, 30- and 40-year-old aircraft are safe enough, but some of the new technology affords better equipment. Stuff does wear out and it corrodes or deteriorates. This may trigger some different opinions. A few examples: Airbags are now almost standard in new aircraft—great improvement! Shoulder harnesses have been standard since the mid-70s and really should be on all aircraft. Some of the older ones do not have suitable attach points. Fuel valves are better designed, making it harder to inadvertently move to the “off” position. One of my favorite aircraft, the J-3 Cub, has a fuel tank that sits right behind the engine—very bad in a crash. The new LSA Cub-derivatives move the fuel much farther from the ignition source. Cockpit lighting is far better, and on and on.

Some of this can be retrofitted to older standard aircraft, but the experimental world is way ahead of certificated aircraft in many respects. The previously noted electronic ignition is just one example. Non-TSO’d avionics are another area where I’d like to see some statistics showing how much safer the TSO’d versions are. There are orders of magnitude in cost differential. Why? Any factual basis?

A huge success story is datalink weather in the cockpit. The FAA had little to do with it, and there are all manner of systems. It is supplemental, and the industry has made phenomenal strides to develop and expand the capabilities. Doesn’t mean there isn’t an occasional miscue, but please name something that doesn’t get misused by some humans.

There are other factors including liability, high manufacturing costs, etc., but there may be ways of resolving those as well. Fixed costs are the bane of manufacturing, and when they get too high and management raises prices, that usually depresses demand further. At one point, companies could make money building light airplanes, and many people, not all, could afford them. Seems like we need to climb into the Way-Back machine and figure out how that was done.

What do you think?

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No Towers and Tall Towers

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

My flight to Sun ‘n Fun in a G-1000 equipped DA-40 involved two kinds of towers, or lack thereof. A lunch date in Aiken (KAIK), S.C., coincided with a minor golf tournament (the Masters), and since IFR slot reservations were required, VFR in good weather seemed the easy way to go. (Mark Twain noted that golf was a good walk ruined, but I digress.) With all the discussion surrounding the closing of control towers, it was instructive to note how the heavy iron types were managing at non-towered AIK. Most everybody was sequencing very nicely, calling the turns and positions just as recommended in the Non-towered Operations Safety Advisor. A Lear announced on the left downwind when a King Air shortly afterward decided that he would fly a right downwind. Somebody noted that it was a left traffic pattern. For a moment it looked to be a most interesting final approach when a semi-sarcastic voice said, “Niiiice.” The King Air pilot, thinking like a controller and seeing the conflict immediately, advised that he was turning midfield crosswind over to the left side behind the Lear, and a standoff was averted. Clever policing technique, I thought. It does require heads up (and out) with courtesy. Meanwhile, AOPA and other groups are having a serious discussion with the FAA on what really should be closed and what should stay open. All the Air Safety Institute seminars for the near future will have a short refresher module on NTA operations.

KLROThen it was on to Mt. Pleasant (KLRO), another non-towered airport in the Charleston, S.C., area for an overnight and dinner meeting. It’s one of those big city reliever airports that has a nice small town feel to it, and you’re sorry to have to leave. Everybody knows everybody, and transients are treated like royalty. Southern hospitality!

Next morning a broken layer at 1,200 feet dictated an IFR clearance, but 10 mile visibility underneath made an airborne pickup reasonable as there was no radio ground access. In an unfamiliar area, it’s good to study the chart beforehand for towers, and there were several BIG ones. The AOPA online airport guide noted, Two 2000 Ft Towers Approx 4-6 Miles East of Arpt, but said nothing about two others that that reach up to 834′ msl and 1039′ msl about 6-8 miles southwest of the airport. The controller was discussing clearance details as I leveled at 700′ msl to stay well clear of the clouds in Class G. My attention was divided between the towers and the controller when the G-1000 decided that there was some danger of my seriously disrupting local TV signals/cell phone coverage for at least the rest of the day. The nice lady in the box rather abruptly announced, “Obstacle less than one mile,” and there was a large depiction of it on the screen. By this time the controller also noted that we were getting too close. I was looking right at the tower, had altered course, and was absolutely certain we weren’t going to hit it or the guy wires, but it was comforting to know both ATC and Garmin were concerned.

Note to self, it’s better to be your own primary line of defense. It’s never a bad idea to review the IFR departure procedure, even VFR, and this one notes that one should climb runway heading to 1,400 feet before turning on course. Had I flown runway heading instead of turning on course neither the controller nor Garmin would have alerted. The key point is “See and Avoid” means just that! That’s the strategy I’ll use where I can’t get to a minimum IFR altitude before getting a clearance. For VFR pilots, all this information is now available for free online. Maybe it’s time to consider some voluntary VFR departure procedures and publicize them.

My prediction is that terrain avoidance warning equipment, used intelligently, will leave us with fewer CFIT and tower encounters, but a conservative approach is better than a tower entanglement.  For non-towered ops—using caution and courtesy is always the way to go.

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