Archive for April, 2014

Slip Sliding Away & Goldilocks

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014
Photo: Brianna Bentley

Photo: Brianna Bentley

It’s not the first time—and certainly won’t be the last—that someone slides off the end of a moderately short but adequate runway. This “oops” was an expensive mistake from a hardware perspective, but fortunately there were no injuries.

A Citation CJ3 slid off the end of a 4,000-foot runway this weekend and into a water trap (appropriately named) of a nearby golf course. (Mind if we play through?) Golf etiquette notwithstanding; remember how critical energy management is to safe landings. It’s good practice to be on speed, on altitude, and on the center line, no matter how long or wide the runway is. I refer to this as the Goldilocks parameters: Not too much, not too little—just right.

In this accident we know mostly what happened—aircraft went off the end. Runway length according to the flight manual was sufficient for the aircraft. There was a displaced threshold of about 350 feet but, even with that, if Goldilocks was in the cockpit everything should have worked. This is also assuming little or no runway slope, no standing water or other contamination, and little or no tailwind. These affect all aircraft but are more critical in jets.

In bigger aircraft and jets the Vref, or landing speeds, can change significantly. This is based on weight, since fuel or passenger load can be a much larger percentage than on a light aircraft. But even in a Cessna 182, a 5- to 7-knot variation can make the difference between a floater and a sinker. Obviously to get book performance, flaps have to be full down. The CJ3 has ground flaps and speed brakes to help dump lift, and timely deployment is essential. Too soon to know if and how they were deployed.

These aircraft are typically equipped with angle of attack indicators, which will automatically adjust the speed for weight, configuration, and density altitude. Keep the energy on the green meatball (1.3 Vso) and you’ll get book performance every time.

The accident report will clarify more of the “what” and then it’s up to us to understand the “why.” If Goldilocks isn’t in your cockpit beware the wolf. In Florida—which is where this mishap occurred—one more caveat: It would be a pity to be gator bait after having survived unscathed!

ASI recently completed a “Takeoffs and Landings” video series made possible by the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association and the Donner Canadian Foundation. The videos cover short field landings, normal takeoffs, determining an abort point, crosswind landings, stabilized approaches, and the base-to-final turn. A great opportunity for pilots of all levels to hone these important skills.

What more, if anything, should we be doing to raise awareness?

Brilliant or Not So Much – Part II

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Cardinal RG

Last week’s blog on decision making turned out to be more than the usual rant on poor decision making. I voiced an opinion that a CFI faced with a recalcitrant main landing gear on a Cessna 172 RG might be taking more risk than prudent in trying to get the gear down. You can read last week’s blog here or just scroll down. (It was noted in error as a Cardinal RG—my mistake.)

There were good comments, pro and con. As this is being written Tuesday morning, 70 percent thought the insurance company should buy the aircraft, and 20 percent thought the CFI was managing the risk appropriately.

What makes this both fun and educational is that the CFI, whom we’ll call Tom, called me after reading the blog to tell his side of the story. Here are his comments, which give us a rare insight into his thought process:

“First and foremost, I would like to assure everyone that this decision was not made in haste and on a whim.  It was well thought out and coordinated with maintenance, ATC, the pilots in the practice area over the ocean, and amongst the two of us in the cockpit.

I bring to this equation over 20 years of flight experience, 8,000+ hours of flight time, a jet airline captain perspective, skydiving and open-door/wind stream knowledge, and an FAA gold seal CFII-MEI. My student and I knew each other well as I had completed his Private and Instrument training. We employed CRM, aeronautical decision making, and risk management using all of the available resources (including the numerous acronyms such as DECIDE, the 3P model, and CFIT). We maintained situational awareness and divided up the flying and problem-solving tasks throughout the entire scenario.

We thought of using a tow bar but didn’t want to risk hitting the elevator. Insurance, money, and cost never came into our decision-making process. In the end I’m glad I didn’t have to test the flight characteristics of an asymmetrical gear landing. I appreciate everyone’s thoughts and comments. I would like to reiterate, though, that I wouldn’t advocate this as a blanket procedure to be performed in all cases. If any of the variables had been different (non-VFR weather, low fuel, a different type of aircraft, single pilot, low-time pilot, night, etc.) then we may have very well come to a different conclusion and solution. Thank you for reading my response.”

The picture shows a Cardinal RG which had essentially the same gear system as a C172RG with a trailing main gear (not asymmetrical) which took the other option and bellied in. That aircraft lives to fly today.

Tom, thanks for a very clear explanation of how you reached your decisions. Some key points—you took a measured approach, and based on your background and on the conditions that existed at the time, decided that the risk was manageable. You didn’t hurry, there were no other complicating factors such as weather or fuel, and you coordinated with all the appropriate parties.

Hindsight bias says that humans almost always over-estimate their ability to forecast outcomes—especially after the fact. As I noted in the first round, I am fortunate to sit in a position of a Monday morning quarterback after all the pieces are laid out on the game board. Lawyers, accident investigators, other pilots, the media, and safety “experts” are quick to sit in judgment after they’ve had a few hours, days, weeks, or months to sift through all the facts. Sometimes we’re right and other times come across as holier-than-thou. Personally, I’ll stick to letting the insurance company have this one but commend you for a nice piece of work. Don’t know that I could have done it—and that’s exactly the point. Dirty Harry famously said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” This is especially true for pilots. It’s a fine line between wimping out and over-reaching. The consequences of misjudging can be severe.

Tom, I commend you for taking the time to call and bring this to light. It helps our safety cause to see and hear other views respectfully and professionally presented. Now, if we could just get our politicians to do the same!

Brilliant or Not So Much?

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Car helping extend Arrow gear

Pilots are occasionally faced with a decision that looks brilliant if it works and stupid if it fails. In this fascinating and descriptive narrative, join us as we Monday-morning-quarterback some tough decisions.

The following edited narrative came from a NASA ASRS report invol­ving a commercial student, a CFI, and a Cessna Cardinal with a recalcitrant left main gear:

“… We raised the gear and lowered it again, but the left main again failed to fully extend, remaining about half way down… Fearing that the left gear wasn’t getting hydraulic pressure, I checked the hydraulic reservoir. It was full… ran the Manual Gear Extension Checklist again and pumped the gear down using the manual override handle… Left gear remained in its half-down [position].

I went into the back seat of the aircraft to get a better look… The tire was wet all over…most likely from hydraulic fluid spraying out from a broken line each time the hydraulic pump was actuated.

The next checklist was the “Gear Up Landing”. I wanted to exhaust all other possible solutions…before considering the possibility of an intentional gear up landing. The only other idea I could think of was a textbook example…that involved opening up the door, reaching outside the aircraft, and pulling the gear up. We contacted [XXX] Tower to alert them of our situation and have them call our mechanics to see if they could provide any other ideas that we had not thought of. 

After troubleshooting (with the mechanics), the only idea they could come up with was the textbook example mentioned above… Not wanting to risk injury to people on the ground…we headed back out over the ocean.

My student and I switched seats. I had him fly the aircraft and I settled in to the left seat. He slowed the aircraft to 60 KTS at 4,000 FT, allowing plenty of altitude to recover if we entered an inadvertent stall…I fastened my seat belt, opened the door, turned around, put my feet and legs outside, and stretched. They wouldn’t reach… tried to reach the gear with my arm… opened the door, turned around to reach, but couldn’t.

I realized that any forward facing solution was not going to work. I turned around backwards, fashioned a makeshift harness to hold me in, lowered and reclined the seat to its full aft and down position, opened the door, reached out again, and was able to reach the gear this time. But I didn’t have the strength to pull it all the way into its locked position with one arm. So next I reached out with both hands, grabbed the gear, and then pulled it forward. I heard and felt a ‘click’. My student confirmed that we had a ‘green’ down and locked light. 

Upon inspection by Maintenance, it was discovered that the pivot axle had sheared–most likely a manufacturing defect during the forging process.”

It’s easy to second guess someone in this situation, but this CFI is far braver (and more flexible) that I would have been. Changing seats in a single engine aircraft is sporty, and hanging out a door with the wind trying to blast it shut and hoping like heck that the seat belt buckle doesn’t unlatch is above and beyond the call in my book. I like Cardinal RGs as much as anyone, but there isn’t an aircraft built that is worth the risk of life in my view.

Another landing gear incident led to a major tragedy some years back. A Piper Aerostar carrying Senator John Heinz had a gear malfunction and collided with a helicopter whose pilot was attempting to verify the gear situation.

This incident with the Cardinal worked, but the risk-reward equation is not balanced in my view. What do you think?