Hi, I’m Bruce Landsberg and welcome to the Leading Edge. We’ll discuss safety-of-flight issues, procedures, techniques, and judgment. With the convective nature of Internet misinformation, and so much content that is over weight and out of balance, you need an experienced and trusted source. So, strap in and let’s go fly!


February 10, 2016 by Bruce Landsberg

Bird Strike edited without bannerIt’s always good to review basics and one we hear ALL the time is fly the aircraft first—no matter what! This month’s blog is inspired by a New Zealand pilot who further reminds us that the little bird—little aircraft—big sky theory doesn’t always work. (You may recall a minor incident over the Hudson River involving an Airbus a few years back that illustrates how birds can ruin your day.)

This is from pilot Mike Greenwood, edited for length but much worth the read. I’ll have some closing commentary.

“Bird strike smashes through plane’s windshield @ 5,000′
The Eagle and the Sportsman

Bobby, my dog, and I took off in a Glassair Sportsman from the Gold Coast destined for home base Moruya [on the] south coast of NSW [North South Wales] for Christmas.

We were cruising on autopilot at about 140 knots at about 5,500’…when BANG!!what seemed like an explosion which continued with loud noise of air and engine screaming.

I saw an instant of a large bird spread-eagled across the windscreen as it smashed straight through hitting my face. This left me unable to see or hear because my face and eyes were covered in blood, and my headsets were ripped off in pieces. There was horrendous noise of high speed air rushing in the cockpit with no windscreen…as the plane plummeted downwards.

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 4.37.49 PMIn the first minutes…I couldn’t see or hear anything. But then my first glimpse…was about to hit the mountains. After dodging…I was fighting to climb. Pushed everything forwardpower, pitch, and mixture, and kept pulling on stick. I was unable to see airspeedslower was better for air rushing but didn’t want to stall…tachometer at over 2700 rpm.

… despite having to wrestle controls I was not spinning or banking so perhaps wing or tail damage not too bad. I was concentrating on mental picture of mountains to fly through the gaps from memory.

Once I stabilized…and beginning to climb I worked on clearing right eye with shirt. My decision that I had lost my left eye saved my life because then I thought, “…stop wasting time on it and try to clear the right eye.” [Comment: Got to focus on the main thingsurvival! ]

Bobby, my canine co-pilot strapped behind me, was so calm. It helped me focus.

Now being able to see more out of that right eye the cockpit and screens were covered in blood…struggled to get position on bloodied maps. Thought two birds were jammed beside me (which later proved to be one large eagle) with feathers and blood everywhere.

Tried to locate the headsets that were blasted off my head by following the cable, but there were just some wires with the boom mic still hanging on and a broken ear cup. So I shouted a Mayday call into it while pushing transmitter button on joystick, but could not see through blood on maps to give much position. I didn’t expect it worked anyway.

The flying…was like trying to push an open bucket through the air instead of a streamlined nose cone. [Comment: After such an event, we become test pilots so changes must be done carefully and analyticallyvery easy to say sitting here, not at all easy in-situ!] But also some of the battle was interference from the auto pilot servos.

With no headsets to communicate with I sent texts to friend in USA knowing he could contact airport control and emergency. I tried to steer further right toward Canberra and away from mountains while texting my friend.

Looking for the iPad fixed to roof, it was covered in blood. I could see some yellow (indicating an urban area)…maybe Bathurst, Orange, or even Goulburn. I texted new plan to friend in U.S. and tried another Mayday call.

I had fought the auto pilot continuously because it could not hold the plane up against force of air into cockpit. I had to disconnect it to turn around and find airport…was holding a high nose attitude with low airspeed and full power, pitch, and mixture. I used half flaps and didn’t let speed fall below 70…

By good luck I spotted runway in distance…flew high over airport and tried one last emergency call while checking best runway. No chance of seeing windsock, but I assumed wind would be roughly easterlyI tried to make wide circuit and set up final approach for runway. I texted my friend in U.S. to make sure they looked after Bobby if I landed.

Once on short final I could see very little…used lots of runway but managed to get down OK. Yahoooo!!!

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 4.43.17 PMBobby was as calm as everstill with his headset on!!

I refused to leave my dog if the ambulance wouldn’t take him, but we went to a kennel for Bobby first before going to the hospital!! I never panicked through all of it because of Bobby. He calms me and I just focused on the job…”


Birds are a threat, but as impolitic as it may be, so are “drones” or UAS. A windshield strike will result in the same outcome except the blood, if any, will not belong to the drone. We ultimately may be smart to wear face shields below 2,000′ agl!ugh.)

Maintain control at all costs—’nuff said. Autopilot may help or hinder. That will require some experimentation. No sudden movesslow and easy does it while maneuvering. Long runway and plenty of time to line up. Angle of attack (AOA) or airspeed is essential.

CRM (cockpit or crew resource management)—use cell phone, a handheld transceiver, iPadanything. Contact ATC if you can reach them BUT flying takes all priority. I have a second headset (for front seat passengers) close at hand. Kudos to Bobby for helping the PIC stay calm. Panic on anyone’s part is not helpful.

Maintain control at all costs—If a crash is inevitable, try to spread out the enjoyment of it for as long as possibleit will be a great story so don’t rush the experience since you’ll likely only get to do it once. Sudden stops are extremely bad for survival, so every G that can be spread out means that more chance of telling a great story! Bob Hoover put it more elegantly: Fly the thing as far into the crash as possible.

Birds can be more than just messy, an inconvenience, or result in a bad day like this. A bad strike can be fatal. The University of North Dakota lost a Seminole and two pilots due to a bird strike.

The odds are a bird strike (or drone) won’t happen to youuntil it does! It’s good (but not pleasant) to think about these things ahead of time. Anyone have a Bird-Bash story to share?

Recommend you take a look at AOPA’s Bird and Wildlife Strikes Subject Report and ASI’s Real Pilot Story: Bird Strike.

Bruce Landsberg,
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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Anti-gravity and upward spirals

January 19, 2016 by Bruce Landsberg

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 3.12.28 PM“I was under complete control and landing was assured. Everything was perfect when the ground just sucked us down and smashed up the aircraft”—go figure. Or, “The clouds just sort of enveloped us and before we knew it the earth was spiraling upward”—go figure. It couldn’t possibly be because the aircraft stalled or you flew VFR into instrument conditions, could it? Nahhh—the real problem was the anti-gravity supply was too low and we’ll need to get that checked.

Loss of Control (LOC) makes up about 30 to 40 percent of fatal general aviation (GA) accidents—an average of two per week! The NTSB has listed it (again) on their 2016 Most Wanted List. The rationalizations are endless but humans, especially pilots, are really good at fabricating them. It might be possible to crash while under control, but we could muse on that a bit. So why do more pilots and their passengers leave life prematurely from LOC accidents? My two favorite dangerous attributes are complacency and distraction. We might also throw lack of skill into the mix.

Complacency is all too common—and since everybody is above average (not really, since this isn’t Lake Wobegon) we think it won’t happen to us! Have you ever spoken to an “average” pilot at the airport or a cocktail party? I’ve never met one, so it’s easy to see why a few of us might be a bit too comfortable with our abilities. It’s a statistic impossibility but then facts have a way with interfering with fantasy. The old bromide of recurrent training is actually a pretty good elixir.

Distraction/Multi-tasking—no problem either: “I’m really good at that!” The facts say otherwise: Stalls cannot happen if we’re minding the store. That’s why there are so few accidents (two percent) when actually performing stall training. Keeping the wing happy is the most important thing—especially at low altitude, as in the traffic pattern.

Fly a decent pattern—take into account what the wind is doing and be especially cognizant of tailwinds on base leg. That often leads to an overshoot on final and a cross-control stall. Fly a wider pattern (but no more than needed), limit bank angle to 30 degrees, keep the ball where it’s supposed to be, and let the aircraft lose altitude in the turns—it’s so simple. Perhaps, there is another aircraft in front of you or there’s radio chatter, but job one is maintaining good airflow. Alignment and energy management are important. But airflow is number one, because without that nothing else matters.

If, despite your best efforts, something just isn’t working, give it up. Persistence is a virtue in many of life’s pursuits but flying isn’t one of them—go around! Don’t like to admit defeat? Let’s just call it a “low pass.” (Politicians never lose a race—they just come in second for the silver medal.) Clouds becoming a problem? Call it a weather diversion or delay. The airlines do it all the time! If anyone ever makes a negative remark about your going-around or delaying a flight due to weather send them to me—we’ll talk!

If you’re as tired of reading about it as we are of writing about it, let’s do something about it. Pay attention to the feeding of the wing during traffic pattern ops—that means both on takeoffs and landings—and stay out of clouds if you’re not trained and proficient to be in them. Those two simple fixes would reduce the fatal GA accident count by 30 to 40 percent. If you’re a little foggy (sorry) about either of these areas the AOPA Air Safety Institute has safety spotlights on both—Takeoffs and Landings and VFR into IMC.

Forget about multi-tasking and don’t believe all your own press releases on how good you might be. And please, if you find a good place to stock up on anti-gravity let me know— we all could use a bit more of it.

Bruce Landsberg,
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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The ‘aircraft’ has decided we’re NOT flying today!

December 21, 2015 by Bruce Landsberg

A350XWB_cockpit_Apr09_hrIn a scene eerily reminiscent of the movie, 2001—A Space Odyssey, a brand new Airbus 350 apparently decided, on its own, to reject a takeoff about 30 seconds into the roll. You may recall in the movie that an “omnipotent” computer went whacko, yet claimed infallibility. (Of course, some of our fellow humans have been known to behave similarly.) But—is there any applicability to light aircraft?

Qatar Airways had planned a special flight from JFK airport in New York, to Doha in the State of Qatar, with about 35 journalists and VIPs aboard. The new Bus—equipped with a tail-mounted, forward-facing camera—allowed everyone to watch the takeoff and the subsequent abort.

The aircraft may have been equipped with a Honeywell Runway Advisory and Awareness System (RAAS) or something similar, not something you’d find on light GA aircraft but gracing many top-of-the-line bizjets and newer airliners.

From the product description sheet: “The SmartRunway® function includes the following: The Runway Awareness & Advisory System (RAAS), including Taxiway Landing and optional caution level alerts for Taxiway Takeoff and Short Runway on takeoff and landing. These provide alerts and advisories to increase crew situational awareness during operations on and around airports. It also includes the Incorrect Takeoff Flap Configuration Monitor. The SmartLanding® function includes the following: The airborne and landing rollout calls of the Runway Awareness & Advisory System (RAAS), the Stabilized Approach Monitor, the Long Landing Monitor, and the Altimeter Monitor.”

Neat stuff! It seems that Airbus took this to the next level by automating the aircraft’s response to the system as opposed to just informing the pilot that the intended takeoff was ill-advised.

According to the ranking Airbus executive on board, “For some reason the A350 decided that our 11,000-foot runway was too short to support the takeoff, and the plane applied the brakes at full force—all on its own.” (An honest admission of what actually happened—a rarity these days.) Shades of the Hal 9000 computer? Two hours of head-scratching and multiple keystrokes solved the problem and they were Doha-bound.

Simple technology is good because humans are often architects of their own disasters. But too many systems are over-designed in response to the human shortcoming of not thinking enough and because today’s micro-processors are capable of almost anything. We solve some problems and create others.

HALGot to contemplating some of the other decision-aiding tools that could be added to the fabulous EFBs (aka iPad/tablets) gracing many of our cockpits. Deliberately chose the word “aiding” because my view is that the PIC gets to be the final authority, not the aircraft (HAL: “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”) Even the FAA agrees that the pilot gets the last say—most of the time.

A light aircraft application? In a flight planning application: Knowing the departure and destination airports, and having preloaded the maximum performance engineering data from the POH, it would be simple to compute density altitude (or manually load it if the flight were taking place at a later time) to determine reasonable takeoff and landing distances. Adding an appropriate margin beyond the best the flight test team could do, should help resolve the omnipresent liability issue.

Perhaps similar technology could remind the pilot when the aircraft is within a mile or less of the destination waypoint, and that lowering the landing gear was more than just a good idea. Since all this information is supplemental it shouldn’t require FAA approval. EFB manufacturers—are you listening? (If this has any merit, help support the AOPA Foundation!)

Big airplanes do much of this already but would it help some of our judgmentally challenged pilots who attempt to take off or land overloaded, out-of-balance, too short, etc. for ambient conditions?

Like GPS and the flight planning software that we couldn’t even imagine a generation ago, technology can simplify things. Or, it can mess things up—all by itself. As Jimmy Buffett famously put it, “I don’t need that much organization in my life.” What do you think?

A year end thought

We are truly privileged in these United States to have the best and most open aviation system on the planet. I am reminded of this every time I fly. At a recent neighborhood gathering, almost everyone was amazed that GA pilots could pretty much fly where and when we wanted, without giving 24 hours prior notice to some authority. I’ve taken a number of them flying with a universally positive reaction and the beginning of comprehension.

Remember to not take our activity, or its safety, for granted and be the best you can be. If you have the capability and inclination, consider a tax-deductible donation to the AOPA Foundation. This marks my 23rd year as an AOPA Foundation Hat in the Ring Society member—a way to help preserve our freedom to fly. Hope you’ll join me, the Foundation, AOPA, and the Air Safety Institute in making 2016 our safest and most enjoyable year ever.

Bruce Landsberg,
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

ASI Online Safety Courses  |  ASI Safety Quiz