Archive for March, 2014

More Flap on Flaps

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

05-473_13ThingsThe flap blog from two weeks ago stirred up some divergent views. In short, a new pilot checked out in an old C172 and lowered full flaps on the preflight, forgot to raise them on takeoff and crashed with four fatalities. I questioned the need for a flap check on the preflight.

There were good points—pro and con:

1. Our highly unscientific poll showed a positive margin that if everyone just followed the checklist as written (53 percent) or as modified by the user (42 percent), this accident wouldn’t have happened. If only we could get pilots to follow checklists to the letter. Of course, I’ve never missed a checklist item and I bet you haven’t either. New C172s require the flaps to be checked on preflight—old C-172s do not. Technically, the pilot added a step to the checklist, but some of you thought that it was OK to add items but not to take them away.

03-342 Checklist

2. Some thought that checklists should be designed by pilots, not the manufacturer’s legal department. Great concept but don’t hold your breath.

3. In response to my question as to why the flight school is liable for what is clearly a pilot lapse—one response was that aircraft, like automobiles, are “dangerous instrumentalities” and the owner is responsible if they rent to an unqualified individual. Pondered that one for a while, but accidents happen with rental car companies frequently, and I suspect that they are not held responsible if someone makes a mistake in a car. The legal system works in strange and mysterious ways. That’s a can of worms we’ll get into another time.

4. A high time CFI had a rather low opinion of the “trash heaps” he flew with a large flight school. If the maintenance is that poor on obvious items, what about the critical ones you can’t see? A different flying gig might be in order. I’ve rejected a few flight reviews in personally owned machines that just weren’t up to my standards, but my livelihood also didn’t depend on flying junk. Not an easy call.

Having spent a few years in the trenches teaching full time in some pretty old aircraft I acknowledge some, but not all, of his points. A wager was made about the number of crashes caused by full flap takeoffs. We should also look at the number of accidents caused by a mechanical flap failure in this category of aircraft. That would give us a better view. Bet that number is equally small. We’ll do a little research on that and get back to you.

5. Sterile cockpit was mentioned during takeoff with the speculation that the pilot might have been distracted. Sterile procedures during preflight and before takeoff are excellent practice.

6. Some lamented the complexity of electric flaps and liked “Johnson Bar” simplicity. There is beauty in simplicity, but the complexity genie has been out of the bottle for a while and it may be tough to get her stuffed back in—liked the sentiment though! Could we please apply that simplicity to avionics!

7. Got a private email from a reader who noted, “It was like I was reading my own words. I was the pilot on final who witnessed the accident and have been flying out of that flight school for the last 19 years. I’m an A&P by profession, PP SEL for pleasure. The bulk of my flying has been in Cessna’s.

“I never understood why there was this need for other pilots to run the flaps through on preflight or at the run-up pad. My first instructor had a philosophy which made sense with me about flaps and the type of aircraft you fly:

  • Do you need flaps for takeoff?
  • Do you need them to land? Can you land without them?
  • The aircraft, at a school especially, flies almost every day and the previous pilot would have squawked a write-up if the flaps were acting up.
  • Do you really need to put more cycles on a secondary flight control that is nonessential for a light aircraft?”

Since these obviously corroborate MY view—take them as the last word…just kidding.

One other point was well made about the importance of divergent views. Having devoted a lifetime to the art and science of safe flight I’ve had the benefit of learning from multiple mentors and by observation. There is real value in looking at things from different angles and perspectives—that’s also a topic for another day but we agree on one point: Flaps misused are killer items. Handle with care.

Thanks much for engaging!