Archive for January, 2014

When Mom Told You The Stove Was Hot

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Mountain FlyingLast week the NTSB announced their Top Ten Most Wanted List to provide a clear path and set priorities for the coming year. It’s great the Board narrowed the focus from general aviation as a whole to a much narrower scope delineating GA and weather. Mark Twain properly noted that “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” So, what could we do?

A few questions:

  • Have you ever been told “VFR not recommended” only to find that the ceiling, visibility, or the timing of that prediction were not quite right?
  • How about an airmet for icing?
  • What about an airmet for moderate turbulence below 10,000 feet?
  • How about the converse of all the above—nothing was forecast and whammo—the flight became a lot more complicated or even dangerous?
  • Do you think that some pilots build up a tolerance to imperfect forecasts based on past successes?

In the cautious words of the folks who sell financial products, past performance is no predictor of future success. And so it is with busted forecasts. Note to self: The weather is what is seen out the windshield—not what was forecast—and this is no place for wishful thinking. When your posterior, and those of your passengers, is hanging in the balance, it’s a really good time to assess risk versus reward.

At this writing, the GA community is averaging about two to three fatal weather accidents a month. It’s not an epidemic when considered against a hundred thousand flights, but it’s certainly not good for business or the health of the accident participants by anyone’s metric. So what to do?

I’ll throw out a starter suggestion and you can chime in anytime. Putting out accurate and timely forecasts/updates when the weather gods are in a different mood than the forecasters would help tremendously. When Mom told you the stove was hot it only took once to learn. But weather isn’t like that. As Yogi Berra famously said, “You can observe a lot just by looking.” Our communication system is what’s lacking. If you saw the Air Safety Institute’s “Accident Case Study—Delayed Reaction,” this is an example of where more accurate and timely information might have helped. We’ll have more to say on this in April’s issue of AOPA Pilot.

Help Me—I’m Stalling…

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Proficiency Check…So said the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz. Maybe that’s slightly garbled, but it’s something that too many GA pilots mumble when headed earthward. An FAA-Industry group, the GA Joint Steering Committee, which I’m privileged to co-chair, has been looking at the number one cause of fatal accidents for several years. Not surprisingly, it’s loss of control—and stalls play a big part.

A long time CFI and friend had some interesting thoughts—different—and I’d like your opinions.

(With minor editorial changes…)

Here is the scenario: You’re in the back seat of a Cessna 172, with a newly certificated private pilot at the controls. After liftoff, the pitch is too high. Sure enough, pretty soon the stall warning horn starts screaming. As the passenger, I know what the pilot should do—push the nose down at least until the stall warning stops. (We could conjure up a similar scenario on the base-to-final turn.)

“So how do we teach stalls? The FAA has a lot to say about primacy, recency, and frequency in learning. What is learned best is learned first, repeatedly, and recently. So here is our pilot in training. His instructor says, ‘We’re going to practice stalls.’ You know what comes next. The airplane is put in a stall conducive condition and when the first indication of a stall commences (the horn), the pilot is instructed to pull back on the yoke and keep pulling back, through the buffet (stick shaker), until control is lost. Is that what you want your pilot to do in the real world?

“This happens repeatedly in preparation for a check ride. Almost never (maybe never) in PPL (private pilot license) training is the pilot instructed to respond to a stall horn by pushing unless the instruction is to practice imminent stalls.

“Seems like PPL training in this manner conditions a pilot to:  a) ignore a warning of imminent danger; and 2) respond to the warning by doing exactly the opposite of what one would want in the real world of flying. 

“When stall accidents occur, pilots all shake their heads and say, ‘Everyone knows that you pitch down to break a stall. This just doesn’t make sense.’ It does make sense, actually. Condition pilots to respond to an imminent stall by pulling back on the yoke, and never the opposite. What really do you expect them to do under duress?”

When asked how we should train pilots to recognize stalls and the whole discussion of AOA (angle of attack) my friend replied there should be an introduction to full stalls but not much more than that. In his mind it’s not about recovery—it’s about prevention. This sounds vaguely familiar to the whole spin/no-spin discussion that can be started in any airport coffee shop or purveyor of stronger beverages.

I’ve got my own views but would like to hear yours. Be kind to one another in discussion because we all want the same thing—fewer accidents. The question is how to best get there. Don’t just vote—how about some comments— we need some good thinking here!

Let the games begin…

The Weather Outside is Frightful

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

winter2 2.2.00Cold and snow have dominated the news for the last week, so maybe now’s a good time to review cold weather ops. Those of you in the South can either ignore or pay especially close attention if your travels will bring you North. A tankful of fuel can move us out of the sunny climes and into really cold country in just a few hours.

If you’ve got an hour to spend, go to one of the recorded cold weather operations webinars on our website (Cold Weather Ops and Airframe Ice: Avoidance and Escape). The conversation is wide ranging and we’re joined by pilots who live in cold Alaska, Idaho, or North Dakota. Here’s a quick synopsis:

  • Engine preheatAlthough the manufacturers will often not specify it above 20 degrees, many owners use it when the temps get below freezing. Those criteria should be met in a lot of places this week! The setup need not be exotic. If you don’t have an engine block heater, an incandescent light bulb works when placed directly underneath the engine, especially when the cowl plugs are in place. Haven’t had much experience with using the new CFL lights for this, so would welcome some feedback. Other electric heaters can be used, but be careful of fire hazards. It would be a touch ironic to burn down your hangar and burn up your aircraft for an engine preheat: The engine will be toasty warm but not really useable.
  • Engine fires during start are a possibility (usually due to over-priming), so know what to do. Carbureted engines are more susceptible. Preheat eliminates this problem—mostly.
  • Dress the part—Feeling compelled to hurry the preflight? You’re not ready to do a thorough preflight and definitely not ready for an off-airport landing where help may not arrive until the next day or so. It may seem silly to carry boots, a parka, heavy mittens, and a hat, but you get the idea. In my USAF North Dakota days we were not allowed to even drive our cars in the winter without some basic survival gear including a blanket, a tarp, a candle, matches, and a flashlight. Everybody was issued cold weather gear and expected to use it. As we often said, “20 below keeps the riff-raff out!”
  • File a flight plan—Nice to know someone will come looking for you. I also carry a 406-MHz personal locator beacon (PLB). Spot, Spidertracks, or one of the other trackers are also a good idea.
  • Know how to install the cold weather baffle for your engine and under what conditions to use it. If you fly South from the cold remember to remove it after landing for sun flying and reinstall upon return to the cold country.
  • NO frost or snow—Outside parking is a bummer, but if you have to do it…all frost and snow has to come off the wings and tail. Forget about “polishing” the frost—I’m never sure what kind of wax to use, and how far down I’m supposed to go. Sorry—bad joke. A garden sprayer with the appropriate elixir works, and I’ve used automotive windshield deicer on metal aircraft in a pinch. DO NOT use it on aircraft windows. Don’t know how it would work on composite airplanes. Better—by far—to park it inside, or let it thaw inside.
  • Patchy ice and snow makes taxiing sporty, landings more so. Run-ups should be done on dry pavement even if you aren’t at the run-up pad.
  • Give and get braking action reports—If it’s anything less than “fair” (less than MU 30) find another runway. If you’re scratching your head, read this Safety Brief.
  • Call ahead or check notams to be sure the airport (or the runway you need because of prevailing winds) is open. Mind the snowbanks on landing. Some airports may not get the snow off the runways immediately after a big one. Verify!

Obviously, there’s much more we could discuss, but here’s a quick review.

Winter flying can be very good—it just requires more preparation and more clothing.

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