Archive for 2014

Going With the Flow

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

traffic flow 2One of last month’s really sad accidents involved a Piper Malibu that for reasons unknown decided to land counter to established traffic at a nontowered airport. There were five fatalities including three children.

Preliminary reports, which are just that, noted that there were several aircraft in the pattern when the pilot approached to land on Runway 33. Winds were reported to be 160 degrees at six knots. Another aircraft was departing on Runway 15. The Malibu made an evasive maneuver to avoid the departing aircraft and appears to have lost control and stalled.

According to the FARs, landing aircraft have the right of way. Now, we get into a hash over when one becomes a “landing aircraft.” Could it be a one mile final, half mile final, when below pattern altitude, other? If the winds favor the opposite runway where does one draw the line? How much wind is “drawing the line”? If a calm wind runway is designated, how does one find out and when is calm not really calm? When does exercising my prerogative to land cross the “careless and reckless line?”

Manufacturers do not provide landing distance information beyond a 10-knot tailwind. For light aircraft you may see something like “increase landing distance by 10 percent for each two knots of tailwind up to 10 knots.” The cleaner the aircraft, the worse it gets. In the PA-46 POH, Piper only gives guidance for up to five knots of tailwind—if I read it correctly. That adds more than the length of a football field: He’s at the 30, the 20, past the 10; he’s into the end zone. It’s a touchdown—but it’s not on the runway. There is nothing good to say about tailwinds on landings. (I do approve of them
en route, however!)

The attorneys will get into this in great detail, but our interest is denying them the opportunity because loss of life is usually involved. 

When approaching the runway at right angles it’s pretty easy to go either way. Ditto if coming from the “wrong” end. Merely angle out a little and then set up for a standard entry. My rule is to generally go with the established flow, and if the tailwind is even slightly significant I suggest on the CTAF that I will be waiting for the others to clear and then land the other way.

Pattern etiquette is one of those sure conversation starters, and we have some suggestions in ASI’s Nontowered Airports Safety Advisor. Playing chicken in cars is dumb—so it is with airplanes.

A core tenet of the Air Safety Institute is to help pilots improve their skills and enhance GA safety through free educational programs. AOPA membership dues don’t cover these programs—donations do, but only six percent of AOPA members actually donate to the AOPA Foundation. Whether you’re a member or a friend of GA, please consider contributing today to support the institute’s important work. Imagine if GA operated on only six percent…www.airsafetyinstitute.org/PSA-sixpercent. 

Not a happy ending to summer

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

We’ve had bad weeks before, but late August and early September were as bad as any in recent memory. There were 10 fatal GA accidents in seven days. We were on track to make an FAA not-to-exceed goal for accident reduction, but as we approach the end of the fiscal year it looks like we’re going off the end of the metaphorical runway. Damn!

There was no particular pattern as summer wound down except for two accidents that appear to have been caused by pilot incapacitation due to hypoxia. Both aircraft fell into the ocean and may never be recovered, so the probable cause is likely to be undetermined. My usual speculative disclaimer applies to this entire discussion.

This “spike” is unusual since GA averages about one hypoxia accident annually where oxygen deprivation is suspected. My suspicion is that many more mishaps occur because the pilot is semi-oxygen starved. The obvious cause may be a gear-up landing, a stall, or anything else, but the root cause is a semi-functional brain (of course we could say that about many that have nothing to do with oxygen). Generally, flying an unpressurized aircraft at altitude carries higher risk. In pressurized aircraft we might see one or two crashes per decade—maybe.

OxygenThere are some sobering reminders: Both pilots were highly experienced but new to the model of aircraft involved. Both aircraft were nearly new. In the case of the pressurized aircraft, a TBM 900, the pilot noted a problem at FL280 and asked for a lower altitude. ATC provided a descent to FL250 and was working on lower with no further contact. The only drill at high altitude is put on the mask immediately, advise ATC that an emergency descent is needed, and then start down—fast. It’s not the time to troubleshoot or consider options—it may be only be a false indication, but incapacitation can take you out with stunning quickness.

ASI put out a rare safety alert last weekend with some recommendations.

With the other crashes—unfortunately it’s many of the usual suspects and we have few details at this point:

  • Stall in a Lancair IVP after a catastrophic engine failure
  • A near head-on collision in the traffic pattern in a Malibu that appears to have gone against prevailing traffic flow and resulted in a stall
  • A heavily loaded homebuilt that may have suffered a power failure after takeoff and stalled
  • Another homebuilt that crashed under unknown circumstances
  • A Cessna 421 that was fueled with Jet A and suffered engine failure shortly after takeoff
  • A banner tower that may have suffered engine failure shortly after takeoff
  • A heavily loaded Cessna 172 that may have suffered an engine failure and stalled during an impossible turn maneuver
  • A Cessna 180 that crashed in Canada

There are a lot of purported engine failures during takeoff, so that will bear some extra scrutiny. In the meantime, anticipate that the engine may fail during takeoff and plan your actions accordingly: Good maintenance, a plan to reject the takeoff, a place off airport (only 30 degrees or so from runway heading) for an off field emergency landing, and finally, a maneuvering altitude where a reasonable, not perfect, execution of a turn back to the airport will not result in a stall/spin.

Moving to the Jump Seat

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

08-652_TaxiingReports of my retirement have been somewhat exaggerated, with apologies to Mark Twain. As you may have read, I’m leaving the left seat of the AOPA Foundation for a jump seat position as a “Senior Safety Advisor” to AOPA and the Air Safety Institute. That means the Safety Pilot Column in AOPA Pilot still continues as does the blog, which is a great place for anyone to voice opinions with, or without, the thought process.

Still get to do speeches and help some of our sister organizations, such as the FAA, NTSB, National Weather Service et al, be reasonable—at least as we define it. As implausible as that might seem, there are some really good people there who understand and want GA to thrive. They need help from the outside to fight internal battles with those who really don’t care about GA or are totally hidebound in bureaucracy.

Best part is the opportunity to do some more flying. Less management and more opportunity to interact with fellow pilots sure seem like a good way to spend some of the limited time we all have. The obligatory retrospective column will appear in AOPA Pilot in November, and after that it’s on to tackle safety and proficiency.

After 44 years of flying other people’s aircraft—some spectacular and others not so much—I am now the proud owner of a well-loved 1987 A36 Bonanza. Why the Bo and that model?

Aircraft ownership is personal, and you can start rousing good arguments anywhere on this passionately held topic. Trying to keep emotion out of it I’ll attempt to explain, recognizing that there will be equally unreasonable and strongly held opinions to the contrary.

  • It’s reasonably fast but not as much as some
  • It carries a good load but not as much as some
  • Parts and service are readily available at somewhat reasonable prices in some cases and absurdly astronomic in others
  • This particular one was air conditioned, and since we will be living in the Southeast…much as perspiration gives the impression of honesty it can make you less socially acceptable than you might naturally be
  • I’ve had a lot of experience with this model, which makes insurance a non-issue, AND I will be taking a transition course later this fall despite that. More on that in a later blog.
  • And the number one reason? It has double doors for loading copious quantities of luggage for my favorite flying companion

Feel free to argue your points openly, but the last one is at your peril from aforementioned companion. You understand!