A bad roll and equally bad commentary

January 13, 2011 by Bruce Landsberg

Good instructors strive to create realism while not creating an actual emergency that they or the student may not be up to handling. Last June a Beech Duke crashed on takeoff as it collided with trees adjacent to the airport. The 49 year old owner, a commercial pilot of some 20 years, was taking an instrument proficiency check (IPC) with a CFI. According to the NTSB’s preliminary report, an hour was spent discussing general procedures and aircraft systems  (an unorthodox approach to an IPC which is a review on IFR procedures) followed by an hour of flight instruction. At the end of the hour, the the 69 year old CFI and pilot discussed finishing the check and the pilot opted to continue.

According to the accident report,” A second flight segment was initiated, and the pilot commenced the takeoff while the flight instructor controlled the throttles. The pilot reported that after liftoff, about 200 feet above the ground, the flight instructor retarded the left throttle at 85 to 88 knots. The airplane began to veer to the left, and the pilot reached for the left throttle to add power; however, the flight instructor’s hands remained on the throttles. The pilot recalled a visible split in the throttle positions. The airplane continued to roll to the left and the pilot was able to level the wings just prior to the impact with trees. After ground impact, the airplane caught fire.” Sadly, the CFI did not survive.

The minimum control airspeed on the Duke is around 85 knots and typically the safe single engine speed (Vsse) will be about 10 -15 knots faster. This is the slowest that one should be intentionally demonstrating or practicing to prevent what happened above. During my multi-engine instructor training as a Cessna factory demo pilot we adhered to this religiously to keep things from getting out of hand. You want to get closer to the edge? Get into a good simulator.

Cessna used Vsse as the target rotation speed and then it was only a few knots to go to blue line, best single engine rate of climb speed. At that point there was perhaps a fighting chance to continue. Other twin manufacturers often used VMC plus 5 knots. That ostensibly helped their marketing departments claim a few hundred feet shorter takeoff run but that’s a fool’s game and most experienced twin pilots value their posteriors more.

The other noteworthy item regarding this accident was a comment made to the local newspaper; ” Beechcraft 60s are difficult  planes  to fly” said XXX, who has been a pilot for 35 years. “They’re short; they’ve got big, powerful engines, which makes them pitch-sensitive,” he said. “They’re definitely not for the novice.” That’s not at all media-savvy so,  to improve the image of GA a few recommendations:

  • After an accident – don’t speculate on the cause or the talents of the pilot(s) involved.
  • All certificated aircraft have to meet specific standards and they are all controllable when flown inside the envelope. They are not controllable outside the envelope.
  • Unsubstantiated opinion, rumor and innuendo, while the staple of so-called news outlets these days is just that – DON’T feed the beast! GA will be better off even if you didn’t get a juicy soundbite on TV or in the paper.

Don’t create actual emergencies in training. Reach an understanding with the CFI before takeoff.  With a sophisticated aircraft that you likely  know it better than the CFI unless he or she is a specialist. Choose your training provider carefully. Some emergencies are practiced safely only by simulation regardless of the knowledge or talent of the instructor.

Much better not to voice opinions to media, other than to offer concern for the victims. Early pithy “analysis” seldom adds anything to the investigation and is often wrong. A good story with compelling video is literally golden and factual veracity is often a casualty.The public interest of future prevention is best served first through investigation – then is the time for accurate dissemination!

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • John Patson

    If you wait two years for the accident analysis to be complete, as is the norm, and then try to tell the papers / TV stations what happened: 1) No-one will care. 2) The GA community will quickly gain a reputation for trying to cover-up after accidents by closing ranks and refusing to comment.
    And with such a reputation all credibility goes out the window. If you do not feed the beast it goes crazy with hunger and destroys all around it.

  • Andrei Volkov

    Sadly, CFI cannot offer his version of the events. Pilot’s version may be colored by the fact that he now has to minimize damage to himself and his family – mental, social, financial. It looks like pre- and in-flight communication between the pilot and the CFI was seriously lacking. Who was agreed-upon Pilot In Command? What exactly did they plan to do on this flight? Perhaps just random things? If so, they both demonstrated to everybody what NOT to do. Then again, maybe investigators find some other plausible reason for the crash (jammed throttle?)
    In any case, I agree that when local newspaper asks for comment, it is best to comment about people – how victims were doing good things for community, tell some uplifting personal story from the past, offer concern and condolences. Comments in local news stories should be about people, not planes. Unfortunately, some pilots care or know more about planes than people, so they comment on what they think they know.

  • Bob Colman

    Bruce, your response is absolutly correct. The CFI was basically out of his mind to retard a throttle at that speed and height.
    Many years ago (1968) we were doing an avionics check flight and the pilot decided to pull a engine…the next moment we were in a huge yaw…quite exciting moment, and really a dumb move.
    A Duke on take off roll is an interesting beast, and the only control if you loose an engine at too low an airspeed is to pull the other and land straight ahead. No way to do any other ‘tricks’!
    Always enjoy your articles, haven’t flown since I sold Depot Avionics, Inc to my son, but still enjoy looking!

  • Michael Dithnot

    A critical engine failure on takeoff *might* happen once or twice in a pilot’s lifetime. I’ve been flying for over 40 years and have never had an engine failure. It mystifies me why the instructors and presumably the FAA insist on creating *actual* dangerous situations in the name of pilot skill evaluations.

    Want to know one of the reasons people give up flying or stop their training? Try scaring the hell out of them by chopping the power on takeoff. I once had an instructor pull the power on a single and make me fly down to 100 ft above some farmers field before he restored the power. Ridiculous. And probably illegal.

    I don’t think there is a single legitimate training lesson that can’t be taught at altitude or in a simulator. These dangerous evaluation practices have got to stop.

  • Dick Bevington

    Not mentioned is the PTS not to simulate the simulated engine failure below 400′

  • Guy Meredith

    Good article. I concur anything below 400′ is dumb unless you got 12000′ of runway or more.

  • Joe H.Gutierrez

    I had a cfi pull the power on me one dark night at about 200′ agl on take off in mountainous terrain, I immideately advanced the throttle slowly and carefully as to make sure the engine did’nt quit, Unbeknown to the cfi this aircraft had a carb. that was a little sensitve to abroubt changes, sometimes the engine would caugh and spit and then quit. After reestablishing climb, I had a few words with the cfi and directed him not to ever do that again or there would be consequences between him and I, he never did that again..The cfi is a human being just like me and any on else, he is also subject to errer. I personally would of never done that to any one unless I had asked him first if the aircraft is in good running and no problems..thank you.

  • Gerard

    With good judgement and with a nod to the regs, I think it is important to pratice engine out scenarios, but there should be advance communication between left and right seats about what and how. I dont see much value in a CFI pulling a fast one, only mayhem and risk. If other pilots are anything like me you play out possible emergencies and your repsonse to them in your head over and over. A little practice now and then is all we need to do the right thing if the time comes.

    As for talking to the media, the news people are going to put somebody on TV. If you can exercise good judgement, be a good spokeperson and stick to the facts….better one of us than some yahoo, otherwise no comment.

  • Bruce Landsberg

    I like John’s comment about the beast going crazy !!! We’re starting to see a bit of that.

    Andrei – you are also correct that our memories are sometimes colored by revisionist history, but like a good attorney, a CFI should never let a student put him/her into a compromising position. We agree that there was no plan that we know of or it didn’t work – which isn’t any better.

    Thanks for your thoughts

  • Earl

    Reminds me of a designated FAA examiner, whose “thing”, is to have pilots descend to wheels touching runway, under the hood during all of his IFR check rides. Last year he collapsed the nose gear on his own personal Seneca during one of these approaches by letting the nose gear slam onto the runway. I was fore warned, but opted to use my Commanche for a IFR check ride anyway. I knew it was coming, but kind of assumed he could fly airplanes. When I finally realized my aircraft was not setup for wheel touch and before I could grab the yoke ( he had taken the controls to show me how it’s done), the nose gear slammed on the runway hard. I guess I’m wondering, should I report this. He continues to do this on all of his IFR checkrides. He does at least 5 a week.

  • Steve

    Earl, safety is paramount. Both yours and everyone around you. It is my opinion that because of the potential for a catastrophe, you should report this guy before he hurts himself or some else. I know I would have trouble with myself if this happened and I may have been able to prevent it. We have decision altitudes for a reason.