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!

Pushing the Envelope

August 20, 2014 by Bruce Landsberg

st18_01How far should we go to modify an aircraft and—when the inevitable compromises are made—what should be considered acceptable? Should we get transition training with unfamiliar aircraft? Do you feel lucky? Never met an aircraft where one change or two didn’t result in about 15 other things going in perhaps less savory directions.

The NTSB just released the factual report on Steve Appleton’s accident that occurred in Boise in 2012. In brief, Mr. Appleton, CEO of tech company Micron, had recently purchased a Lancair IV-TP. After an aborted takeoff attempt where the aircraft got airborne to about 10 feet, Steve elected to land and taxied back to the end of the 9,680-foot runway to do some additional checks.

On the second takeoff the aircraft climbed to about 320 feet according to onboard flash memory cards in the avionics. There was a power reduction and the aircraft rolled to the left approximately 49 degrees and impacted the ground. It doesn’t appear to have been a mechanical fault but the NTSB will decide.

The Lancair IV-TP does not have a particularly good safety record according to the NTSB, “…at the time of this report, of the 57 Lancair IV-TPs that were registered (and presumably flying), there is an accident rate of 26-percent…” and 73 percent of those accidents were fatal. So, fully one quarter of the fleet has been involved with some nasty outcomes.

Lancairs are designed to do one thing really well and that’s to go fast. But to go slower on takeoff and landing (sort of necessary) is when the trouble seems to happen. Laminar flow wings tend to let go suddenly and may have a strong rolling tendency. At pattern altitude recovery is unlikely.

The NTSB noted that the FAA had issued a warning letter to operators in 2009: “The notice indicated that while Lancairs represented a little over 3 percent of the amateur-built experimental aircraft fleet, they contributed to 16 percent of all amateur-built fatal aircraft accidents in the prior 11 months…” Let me point out Lancair is not the only high performance experimental aircraft with aggressive stall characteristics. The FAA had also proposed a special training requirement as has been done on several other aircraft that had relatively high accident involvements. That has yet to be enacted.

The turbine mod to the piston aircraft enhanced performance but a former Lancair engineer noted that it destabilized an already sensitive balance. It further increased a high wing loading and changed the CG. This is not an indictment of Lancairs: They can be flown safely but require knowledge and respect because that tiger can bite—quickly if allowed.

The psychology of pilots is always interesting, and the more we can understand the thought process the more likely we are to make some sense of any mishap. People who knew Steve noted that he was a risk taker with active hobbies such as scuba diving, surfing, motorcycling, and off-road car racing. These are not inherently dangerous per se, but it’s not a Bingo game or bird watching. He seriously injured himself and totaled an Extra 300 when the ground intervened at the bottom of a loop. That brush with mortality might have encouraged a more conservative approach—but apparently it did not.

Steve was a highly experienced pilot with an estimated 3,600 hours total time, including a fair amount in turbine aircraft but only about 13 hours in the turbine IV-TP. He resisted getting transition training in the IV-TP.

There’s a strong case to be made for transition training. Pilots involved in accidents generally have less experience in make and model, often despite high total time. Airplanes have similarities, but some can be very different. Amateur-built and experimental aircraft may have widely divergent characteristics that depend on both design and construction. It’s the proverbial box of chocolates—you just never know what you’re going to get.

Bruce Landsberg,
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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Calling all Fools

August 13, 2014 by Bruce Landsberg

A friend who flies aerobatic aircraft and posts videos occasionally received this spam email, which has been lightly edited to preserve the innocence (or not) of the author.

My name is XXXX and I am a senior at college working on a start-up called ‘Hold My Beer and Watch This’ (not the real name), which seeks to become the ‘Kick Starter for Challenges.’ We are trying to solve a huge problem that you know first-hand: YouTube daredevils aren’t getting paid enough by the platform to produce quality, viral content. 

Through HMB&WT you can crowdfund money from your fans to complete a task or stunt. The money can go wherever you like: into your own pocket, toward charity, covering the cost of the challenge, or even a combination of all three. However, backers don’t get charged until you post a video of a successfully completed challenge—creating an exciting viewing experience for your fans.

Given your reputation for extreme videos and your strong fanbase, we thought you’d be a perfect fit to join as one of our “Pilot Catastrophes”—a select group of celebrities, athletes, and YouTube stars who HMB&WT will feature during launch…”

Living under my rock, I didn’t realize the gene pool had gotten quite so shallow and that we were all so starved for watching idiots do dumb things.

In a recent media interview the reporter asked if GA flying needed additional regulation to prevent accidents. My predictable response was that the regulations are in place for a legal response if someone is caught before a fatal outcome, where gravity always wins. We expend great energy to help people assess risk and avoid becoming a “Pilot Catastrophe” for the viewing enjoyment of the masses. Just take a look at the free aviation safety education programs available from the Air Safety Institute, including ASI’s “Do The Right Thing: Decision Making for Pilots” online course. 

Controlling the two percent that insist on thrills or utility at the cost of their lives or that of others has never been accomplished in any form of personal transportation—DoofTube proves it.

Pilots don’t try this at home or any place else…

Bruce Landsberg,
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

ASI Online Safety Courses  |  ASI Safety Quiz

Criminalizing Accidents?

August 6, 2014 by Bruce Landsberg

fla_crash_on_beachThere was a heart-breaking event in Florida last week when a Piper Cherokee landed on the beach after the engine stopped, for as yet unknown reasons. The pilot, maneuvering to land, apparently failed to see a young father and his daughter walking along the shore. Both died in the forced landing although the pilot and his passenger escaped uninjured. The pilot claims he saw no one, but a web vigilante flash-mob formed within minutes calling for charges of manslaughter to murder and the banning of personal flight.

A few of the comments:

“Private aircraft have to be banned. Hundreds crash every year and people on the ground [get] killed. They also are responsible for all the air traffic congestion in the skies.”

“That incompetent idiot of a pilot needs to go to jail for murder. He walks away without a freaking scratch but kills an innocent man and gravely injures a little girl? He deserves to rot in prison.”

“These pilots are crazy. One landed on the same highway twice in one week. This pilot should have tried to put the plane down on the water to avoid killing someone on the beach as he did.”

“The pilot was clearly intoxicated.” (There was no evidence to support that assertion.)

The verbal stoning goes on for pages. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? Guess that conflicts with what passes for free speech these days. Culpability will be determined soon enough, and then the issue of negligence will be determined.

A legal definition of negligence is “A failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.” Cornell Law School goes on to explain, “Five elements are required to establish a prima facie case of negligence: the existence of a legal duty to exercise reasonable care; a failure to exercise reasonable care; cause in fact of physical harm by the negligent conduct; physical harm in the form of actual damages; and proximate cause, a showing that the harm is within the scope of liability.”

The distinction between criminal and civil negligence is more nuanced. Wisegeek.com says, “Civil negligence, according to many law systems, is the breach of a duty to care. Someone who is found guilty of civil negligence is found to have not acted in the way a reasonable person would in the same situation. The negligent act must result in injury or loss, and often falls under tort laws. Criminal negligence is different because the defendant is accused of intentionally acting in reckless fashion without regard to the safety of others, and as such, the offense falls under criminal codes.”

Leaving legal complexity to the specialists, a couple of thoughts come to mind. None have any basis in fact because the facts are not yet known. Running out of fuel might be considered a criminally negligent act but failure of a mechanical part might not. Then again, it might if the part were known to fail and was required to be fixed. The devil is in the details, and we won’t have facts for at least a year.

The first comment in this web diatribe is more dangerous than it might appear because it contains a minute element of truth: There are hundreds of GA crashes per year. But on average, less than one tenth of one percent involve any injury to innocents on the ground. Based on a percentage of estimated flights, the number is immeasurable and irrelevant except to those who are tragically involved. Wonder how automobiles would fare if a similar standard of care were applied? This calamity is the perfect example of a low probability, high consequence event. The critical difference between innocence and guilt lies in how well we practice the art and science of safety. Perhaps our ability to communicate those efforts is vital as well.

Bruce Landsberg,
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

ASI Online Safety Courses  |  ASI Safety Quiz