April 30, 2013 by Bruce Landsberg

runwayWe live by acronyms in aviation and even more so in the Twitter/text/smartphone world, thus the cryptic title regarding the loss of a Cessna 210 while landing at the Williamsburg, Va., airport (KJGG). The airport itself has a very good safety record with just two accidents dating back to 1983 not counting this one.

The runway is 3,200 feet long and generally unobstructed. The 4,300 hour pilot, an Air Force general who was accomplished in heavy military aircraft, was flying his personal Cessna 210 that he had presumably owned since 1994 accompanied by his wife and their black Lab. As the flight approached the airport, the KJGG METAR reported 192055Z AUTO 18014G28KT 10SM CLR 28/19 A2975. VFR conditions with some fairly gusty winds.

All commentary is speculative since the accident just happened. The right-hand traffic pattern specified for Runway 13, which the pilot was flying, had a significant tailwind on base leg. Could that have created the illusion of a high airspeed when in fact it’s the groundspeed that was high? From the NTSB’s preliminary report:

“According to witnesses, the airplane passed beyond the extended runway centerline when the pilot reported on the common traffic advisory frequency that he was turning from the airport pattern base leg to final approach for runway 13. The pilot executed a steep right turn towards the runway, and the airplane pitched down and descended at a steep angle behind a tree line.” 

There were no survivors and the engine appeared to be developing power.

Texting shorthand doesn’t begin to convey the tragedy in this accident.

Acronym translation: Monday Morning Quarterbacking on Base-To-Final Loss of Control. The handheld GPS may provide some additional insight, but the illusion of speed from a strong tailwind has caused many a pilot to tip it up on a wing so as to not overshoot the runway. High groundspeed will result in a wider turn radius as we all remember from turns around a point. Natural reaction is to steepen the bank to hit the centerline.

There’s a natural tendency to pull back to offset the rapid settling that the aircraft will develop. G-loads and AOA increase quickly and before one can say, “Oh, shucks!” the lift is gone and controlled flight is but a memory with no chance of recovery.

A strong tailwind on base is not something we see that often, and if it isn’t top of mind, the accident chain can be really short. Perhaps we shouldn’t be congratulating ourselves that we’re all much too smart to ever make such a mistake.

Remember, a tailwind BTF turn is a BFD (Big Fat Deal…or something like that) and gravity can bite hard and fast.

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

ASI Online Safety Courses  |  ASI Safety Quiz  |  Support the AOPA Foundation

  • Lawrence

    OK. We are shuddering in our boots at your portrayal. What you did not include is the procedure recommended when you have clearly missed the turn to a short final. Especially if there are parallel runways and you are about to encroach.

  • Esteban

    So what would be the safest action to take in a similar situation?

  • Tom

    Power up pitch up clean up communicate

  • Bruce Landsberg

    There are several possible solutions:

    1. Admit that you’re moving into an untenable situation and go around
    2. Fly a wider pattern that will allow the option of leading the turn onto final
    3. Lawrence – in your situation, see one and two above. If there’s another aircraft involved don’t hit him! Had this situation at SNF and it wasn’t pretty. We anticipated that the other pilot would overshoot and adjusted out flight path accordingly.

  • Gregg

    Military heavy has different handling characteristics than C-210 and what is blase for the “heavy” and its crew is significant for the C-210 and its single pilot.

    What is his recency of experience in military heavy vs. C210? When did it occur?

    Lessons Learned:
    When strong base tail wind shoots you past extended centerline, execute a go-around and set-up for another approach (hurt pride doesn’t show).
    If able, fly left-hand pattern, because it’s easier to manage energy in a strong headwind on base than a tailwind.
    Option 3 is select another airfield.