Archive for 2014

A basic and complex maneuver

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

2-6 Cessna 182 option 1A few weeks back in this blog, I commented about “Going with the Flow” and that unless there was a compelling reason to do things differently, a head-on confrontation with established traffic in a non-towered pattern perhaps wasn’t the best idea. The accident occurred in Erie, Colorado, when a Piper Malibu crashed going opposite to other traffic and attempted to land downwind. Those thoughts still apply—mostly.

A friend called to provide some more information since he actually witnessed the set-up and the crash. First, a mea-culpa because in the previous blog I made a statement that the pilot lost control while maneuvering to avoid a departing aircraft. That is NOT what happened and, while my standard disclaimer always applies in preliminary discussions, it is always appreciated when anyone has additional information.

The facts will continue to evolve but from an eye witness account:

–The Piper did go opposite the flow despite a six-knot tailwind. The pilot slowed and started making S-turns to allow a departure to clear his inbound final approach. This may have left the aircraft a bit high and possibly a bit fast (speculative). What is not speculation: A six-knot tailwind was pushing the Malibu down the runway, and the pilot elected to go around.

–There was a rapid application of power, and the aircraft pitched up noticeably and then made a nearly 90-degree left turn before stalling.

The aerodynamics of go-arounds are well known, and GA pilots—as a group—do not always perform them well:

1. Start early—it’s much easier when there’s some altitude left to work with. The middle of the flare when not much energy is left is not optimal.

2. Power must be applied smoothly lest all the left turning tendencies become overwhelming. As a rule of thumb, three to four seconds work well to go from idle to full power. It’s easier on the engine and allows the pilot time to adjust to changing forces, both in pitch and yaw. This is especially important on big engines where the forces can get strong in a hurry.

3. We don’t practice go-arounds nearly enough and as a result are often rusty. They should be standard on every flight review, and nothing precludes your solo practice of go-arounds occasionally. If you’re uneasy the first time or two, set it up at altitude.

4. My mantra, in order, is:

  • Power—first and smoothly applied (don’t forget the right rudder).
  • Pitch—significant forward pressure is needed because we were trimmed for landing. Initially, level may be the best you can safely do. I am not a big fan of running pitch trim all the way back to allow just a little pull for the flare. Depending on the aircraft, it may take a really strong push to get the nose down to prevent a stall in the event of a go-around. Re-trim as needed—use manual trim if the electric isn’t quick enough, but get the aircraft doing the work as soon as possible.
  • Flaps—retract to approach configuration. If landing flaps are down, the aircraft just isn’t going to climb well. In ground effect though, we can start putting energy back in to the equation and getting stable. Retracting all the flaps increases stall speed so that isn’t a great idea either.
  • Gear—after everything is pointed comfortably up and the obstacles are well cleared, then and only then, raise the gear. Gear retraction will often reduce climb somewhat while in transit. If you’re coming back for another landing, make damn sure to put the gear down again. Re-accomplish the entire before-landing checklist lest a belly slide be in your future.

There is a lot happening in a short time frame, in sequence and close to the ground. It has to be done right and timely—this can be a problem if not practiced.

Notice we haven’t spoken to anyone. The tower or other pilots are not going to help whatsoever. This maneuver demands undivided attention. After everything is under control, then some communication is appropriate.

A final thought, which my friend and I agree on. There are times when going with the flow is a bad idea. If the herd insists on landing downwind, that is a great time to exercise your PIC authority and declare your intentions. I’ve done this a number of times—especially with students, when a slight tailwind made landings difficult, I’ve announced on the CTAF that we were going to change directions. Let the hardheads play through, if they insist, and let’s hope they don’t foul the runway in the process. Going against the flow should always be for operational reasons—not convenience!

Rapping with the Wolfman

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

Center_Controller_natcaThe AOPA Homecoming was well-attended and, although a bit of a cold front kept some Northeast pilots on the ground, a good time was had by all. I had the privilege of presenting a communication seminar with a Potomac TRACON controller, Brandon Miller, to help me review some basic comm practices for both VFR and IFR pilots.

Got to thinking about one of our talking points while on a trip back from the South land after the fly-in. Both pilots and controllers sometimes forget not only do the words have to come out in the correct order, but the person on the other side actually has to understand them. George Bernard Shaw, the playwright,  famously noted,” The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” That happens every day on the frequencies.

Try being slow and chunky—that’s not a slam on some of our fellow humans but rather on how communication should be structured. Make sense of this: “Fayerrrvileapprhcesfrsevnsishbecango, twelvesqeeshaaahsvnpntfiVFRflifollwingto fxblqbrg.” (!!!!????)

The controller patiently asked, “Aircraft calling Fayetteville approach, try it again slower please.” (Hadn’t heard that much before from the ATC side.) Cessna 476 QT (not the real call sign) managed to un-garble slightly and mumbled something about being 12 south at 7.5 (7,500 msl) and wanting flight following to someplace. There were three opportunities to improve the communication in this wonderfully great bad example.

1. Speak clearly—e-nun-ciate. Slurring words is really bad form—makes people think you’ve cheated  on the eight-hour rule. Make it a point to form the words carefully. Your life may depend on it.

2. Slow down—Even on busy frequencies, the best controllers and pilots rise above the fray to not scurry along like some scared rodent avoiding the light. It’s the mark of a pro. Don’t dawdle but there’s a clear cadence that works every time. If the message has to be repeated no time was saved and it was wasted.

3. Chunk it—Most humans can comfortably handle about three pieces of information at a time. After that, comprehension deteriorates rapidly. Controllers are taught to chunk but sometimes forget in the heat of battle. Then the whole thing needs to be repeated—and again, no time was saved. When asking for Flight Following, before joining the party, just call the facility, give them your call sign, and say something like “VFR Request.” That gives the controller time to finish whatever she was doing because she probably had something else going on besides just waiting for your request. It also gives them  time to get a squawk from the system. Then information exchange can take place.

Wolfman Jack (of “American Graffiti” fame) is my nickname for a New York Tracon controller who had a gravel-like voice. It’s distinctive and I’ve only had the pleasure of being under his care once, a few years back. The Big Apple always hums with traffic but on his frequency something was different. The Wolfman, despite being very busy, was in control. No hurry, no complex instructions, just a steady flow. If somebody missed something, he never got impatient but just had the reassuring growl to let your know he was there to help and you were in his sector. Rock ON!!!

Safe pilots are always learning, and the goal of the Air Safety Institute is to ensure pilots have a wealth of information to keep flying safely and proficiently. If you want to become a better communicator, consider taking ASI’s “Say It Right: Mastering Radio Communication” course. Programs such as these are funded through donations from pilots dedicated to forwarding that safety mission. Show your support by donating to the AOPA Foundation today.

Single Point Failure

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

After the Chicago Center sabotage this week where a contract technician decided to complicate the upper Midwest ATC system, it got me to thinking about single point failure (SPF) modes—not for ATC but for pilots.

But first, how could the Chicago SNAFU happen? In my long-ago prior life in the USAF there were places where no person could be alone. Our nuclear missile launch control center had a two-officer requirement so if one of us got a little weird there was somebody right there to solve the problem. No single point failures! (Wonder if we could apply some similar thinking to other government activities—editorial comment.) We’ll let others rant about that, so let’s move on to operational topics.

Perhaps the most notorious aviation SPF over the years was the dry vacuum pump. I had a pump take an unplanned vacation with only 25 hours on it in solid IMC. The obligatory partial panel approach followed. After that experience, all the IFR aircraft I flew had a backup vacuum system. Darn if it didn’t happen again some years later in VMC, but the backup was there and it was a non-event. Both aircraft were well-maintained, but the perversity of hardware is always there.

On many older aircraft there are still people operating in IMC with this critical SPF. Not so good! If you “have a friend” who’s in this situation please encourage them to either not fly in IMC or GET A SUITABLE BACKUP! You can convince them with this Real Pilot Story.

With retractable landing gear there’s always an alternative extension mode: Most of the time it works and when it doesn’t let the insurance company fix or buy the aircraft. Avoid heroics to get the gear down that have led to catastrophe.

cat-clipartThe system that gives me the biggest pause these days, after the engine itself, is the electrical system. We’re putting more and more eggs into the electronic basket. There are a number of options—a second alternator or a really good battery—but you better catch the problem fast. If that doesn’t work, the “Cat-Duck-and-Tree Method” can be employed, but it requires a lot of space and a substantial animal food budget. If you don’t know about that particular option see the fine print below!

RATThe RAT might be a simple short term solution—not the four legged variety but a Ram Air Turbine. It’s been used on many military aircraft and airliners over the years. The Airbus 380′s is bigger than yours at more than five feet in diameter. It deploys manually or automatically into the slipstream and generates a modest amount of electricity. Haven’t seen that option for light GA, but I’m sure that somebody has come up with a solution.

Unless you’re flying one of the classic gravity-fed Cessnas, there’s probably an electric fuel pump to prime and to supplement the engine driven pump. Engine driven  pumps don’t quit often but the electric pump is a potentially critical backup if the engine driven pump fails. Do you know the protocol for using yours?

Perhaps the ultimate backup is the Cirrus parachute. Some pilots look down their nose at it. However, if used correctly, it has saved quite a number of lives in addition to be being a great marketing benefit to persuade non-pilots to go fly. It didn’t help one optimist who tried to fly up the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon at night in MVFR. He was depending upon the terrain database to keep him off the rocks, but…well, you know.

“The Cat-Duck-and-Tree Method”

First, put a large cat on the cockpit floor. Because a cat always remains upright, the pilot merely has to see which way the cat leans to determine if the wings are level. Second comes the duck, which is used for approaches and landings in soupy weather. Any sensible duck will refuse to fly under instrument conditions, thus it is only necessary to hurl your duck out of the airplane and follow her to the ground.

For the most efficient use of the “Cat-Duck-and-Tree Method” follow this checklist:

  • Get a wide-awake cat. Most cats don’t want to stand up at all. It may be necessary to carry a large dog in the cockpit to make the cat pay attention.
  • Make sure your cat is clean. Dirty cats spend all their time washing. Trying to follow a washing cat usually results in a snap roll followed by an inverted spin.
  • Use an old cat. Young cats still have many of their nine lives left, but an old cat has just as much to lose as you do and will be more dependable.
  • Avoid cowardly ducks. If the duck discovers you are using the cat to keep the wings level, it may refuse to leave without the cat. Ducks are no better in IMC than you are.
  • Make sure your duck has good eyesight. Nearsighted ducks may fail to realize they are on the gauges and go flailing off into the nearest mountain. Very nearsighted ducks may not realize they have been thrown from the aircraft and will descend to the ground in a sitting position. This is very difficult to follow in an airplane.
  • Use only land loving ducks. It is very discouraging to break out of the overcast and find yourself on final approach toward duck blinds, because duck hunters will shoot at anything that flies.
  • Since the floating compass in your airplane may sometimes go off track, you should always have a small tree hanging from the cockpit ceiling. Since moss grows only on the north side of a tree you merely have to see which side the moss is on to determine in what direction the plane is flying.

(Richard Taylor, author of Instrument Flying)