We Don’t Train For That

July 7th, 2014 by Ron Rapp

The tragic Gulfstream IV accident in Boston has been on my mind lately, partly because I fly that aircraft, but also because the facts of the case are disquieting.

While I’m not interested in speculating about the cause, I don’t mind discussing factual information that the NTSB has already released to the public. And one of the initial details they provided was that the airplane reached takeoff speed but the pilot flying was not able to raise the nose (or “rotate,” in jet parlance).

My first thought after hearing this? “We don’t train for that.” Every scenario covered during initial and recurrent training—whether in the simulator or the classroom—is based on one of two sequences: a malfunction prior to V1, in which case we stop, or a malfunction after V1, in which case we continue the takeoff and deal with the problem in the air. As far as I know, every multi-engine jet is operated the same way.

But nowhere is there any discussion or training on what to do if you reach the takeoff decision speed (V1), elect to continue, reach Vr, and are then unable to make the airplane fly. You’re forced into doing something that years of training has taught you to never do: blow past V1, Vr, V2, and then attempt an abort.

In this case, the airplane reached 165 knots—about 45 knots beyond the takeoff/abort decision speed. To call that uncharted territory would be generous. Meanwhile, thirty tons of metal and fuel is hurtling down the runway at nearly a football field per second.

We just don’t train for it. But maybe we should. Perhaps instead of focusing on simple engine failures we ought to look at the things that are causing accidents and add them to a database of training scenarios which can be enacted in the simulator without prior notice. Of course, this would have to be a no-jeopardy situation for the pilots. This wouldn’t be a test, it would be a learning experience based on real-world situations encountered by pilots flying actual airplanes. In some cases there’s no good solution, but even then I believe there are valuable things to be learned.

In the case of the Gulfstream IV, there have been four fatal accidents since the aircraft went into service more than a quarter of a century ago. As many news publications have noted, that’s not a bad record. But all four have something in common: each occurred on the ground.

  • October 30, 1996: a Gulfstream IV crashed during takeoff after the pilots lose control during a gusting crosswind.
  • February 12, 2012: a Gulfstream IV overran the 2,000 meter long runway at Bukavu-Kamenbe
  • July 13, 2012: a G-IV on a repositioning flight in southern France departs the runway during landing and broke apart after hitting a stand of trees.
  • May 31, 2014: the Gulfstream accident in Boston

In the few years that I’ve been flying this outstanding aircraft, I’ve seen a variety of odd things happen, from preflight brake system anomalies to flaps that wouldn’t deploy when the airplane was cold-soaked to a “main entry door” annunciation at 45,000 feet (believe me, that gets your attention!).

This isn’t to say the G-IV is an unsafe airplane. Far from it. But like most aircraft, it’s a highly complex piece of machinery with tens of thousands of individual parts. All sorts of tribal knowledge comes from instructors and line pilots during recurrent training. With each anomaly related to us in class, I always end up thinking to myself “we should run that scenario in the simulator.”

Cases like United 232, Apollo 13, Air France 447, and US Air 1549 prove time and time again that not every failure is covered by training or checklists. Corporate/charter aviation is already pretty safe… but perhaps we can do even better.

Ron Rapp

Ron Rapp is a Southern California-based charter pilot, aerobatic CFI, and aircraft owner whose 7,000-plus hours have encompassed everything from homebuilts to business jets. He’s written mile-long messages in the air as a Skytyper, crop-dusted with ex-military King Airs, flown across oceans in a Gulfstream IV, and tumbled through the air in his Pitts S-2B. Visit Ron’s website.

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The opinions expressed by the bloggers do not reflect AOPA’s position on any topic.

  • Brent Owens

    Great post Ron! I agree that we should spend more time on this stuff in the simulator using a more scenario-based approach. I know the typical 135 recurrent footprint is more about checking the antiquated FAA required boxes than anything else because of the limited time allowed. The FAA should be leading this charge, but…

    • http://www.rapp.org/ Ron Rapp

      Recurrent does tend to follow a known and predictable pattern, doesn’t it? But I’ve noticed a more accommodating posture from the FAA regarding “no-jeopardy” safety enhancements (ASAP, for example) and wonder if that same philosophy might make our sim sessions more beneficial. Let’s face it, knowing when a rejected takeoff or V1 cut is coming is not very realistic.

  • SaferAviator

    Ron, an excellent post reminding us of the old adage about learning history lest we be doomed to repeat it. Unfortunately, most GA pilots do not have the resources to get in the sim and practice these types of scenarios. This is why I’m so strongly in favor of talking about accidents among ourselves. I’d also add American Flight 191 to your list of accidents.

    • http://www.rapp.org/ Ron Rapp

      Absolutely. While they’ll probably never reach the capability, realism, or (thankfully) cost of a Level D box, modern light GA simulators are much improved over the old designs. Of course, as they improve in quality, the price goes up as well.

      Piston singles suffer from different fatal causes than business jets. The former seems to be stall/spin, VFR-into-IMC, fuel exhaustion, and gross errors of judgement (buzzing, etc) — in other words, a lot of stuff that happens while airborne. Fatal bizjet accidents are typically during during takeoff & landing. Light singles get bent during those phases as well, but their lower speed and mass means a smaller percentage of them are fatal.

  • patriot454

    Exactly. But companies too often don’t want to train any more than the minimum required – it’s about checking boxes and recertifying at the least cost. Far too little emphasis is given to exploring the “dark dusty corners” of the complex flight mgmt and automation systems, etc. (BE200, C441, CE500, B727, DC9, B757, B767, B777, B747 and B787)

    • http://www.rapp.org/ Ron Rapp

      Yes, money definitely plays a role in the quantity and quality of training. From a safety standpoint, money should be no object… but of course reality is quite different. Money and time are limited resources and those limitations have to be observed if a company is going to stay in business.

      You noted the intricacies of automation systems — the “what’s it doing now?” syndrome — and that’s an area where I think every pilot has seen some confusion as one point or another. Definitely a good area for further training for light GA, corporate, and airline types alike.

  • LearGuy

    Ron, since you fly the G4, what kind of flight control locking system does it have. AOPA’s earlier article said that the flight controls were locked. I fly a Lear 45 and we use straps to lock the controls. Is it possible to get to the takeoff roll in a G4 without knowing the flight controls are locked.

    • http://www.rapp.org/ Ron Rapp

      All G-IVs have the same gust lock mechanism. You can see it in this photo — it’s the red handle sticking up: https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5274/14537581683_cda9088b57.jpg

      It *shouldn’t* be possible to takeoff with the controls locked because it also limits throttle movement to six degrees, but things do break. The handle is quite conspicuous, so it’s difficult to imagine anyone not seeing it in the engaged position.

  • Randy Gawenda

    Hi Ron, this is a great point and one that
    doesn’t get the attention it deserves. There are some places that do LOFT/SBT
    for pilots, and a few that even cater specifically to GA pilots because they
    need the same professional grade training, if not more so, simply because they
    fly less often, generally less sophisticated equipment, etc… I do agree and
    like the fact that it seems the FAA is shifting its stance from evaluation to
    training (per AC120-109 and UPRT). Honestly, the box is where you are supposed
    to make mistakes and learn. The aircraft does not usually give you the option
    to fly another day. Our training combined a 1st half – which was the evaluation
    portion of pilot skills and proficiency. Once that was passed, it was just
    what you stated, a “no-jeopardy” training session incorporating
    LOFT/SBT so the pilot could fly through multiple situations (which should be
    realistic, not just failure after failure after failure) so that learning could
    occur. In many cases, this required me as the instructor to be quiet and just
    play ATC and allow the student to make decisions (right or wrong)
    without having to pull the plug on a particularly dangerous situation
    or bad decision. The student would fly until the end (good outcome or not)
    because that was the point, to realize the outcome of the decisions he/she
    made as PIC. That was something they took with them out the sim door and into
    the real aircraft, hopefully better trained, more knowledgeable, and
    better equipped to deal with situations they have not encountered before.

    • http://www.rapp.org/ Ron Rapp

      It’s good to know the evaluation/training methodology is in use. My company is actually moving toward something like that, by adding an extra day of training for just such a purpose.

      As an instructor, it must have been as much of a learning experience for you as it was for the students! Just the observation of human behavior would be fascinating once the flight went outside the standard sim profile. I’m strongly agree that the students take more away from training when they’re allowed to proceed to the scenario’s ultimate conclusion — good, bad, or ugly.

  • LearGuy

    Ron, thanks for posting the picture of the flight control lock handle, now I know it is a mechanical devise, that was helpful. Now let’s get real basic. On my Lear checklist we have (check flight controls) twice. Once when the airplane is cold and once on the pre-taxi checklist. Please tell us how the G IV checklist reads in regard to flight controls prior to the takeoff roll.

    • http://www.rapp.org/ Ron Rapp

      The flight control check on the G-IV is accomplished during the after-start flow. Other systems (stall barrier, ground spoiler, etc) are checked, and then the flight controls are done.

      We don’t typically check them prior to start because there’s no hydraulic pressure.

    • LearGuy

      During my recurrent training the folks in the class share all the weird junk that happens to them in the plane and how they handled it, especially if the checklist doesn’t address the situation.

      Has there been occurrences in the G IV, while either on the ground or in the air, where the flight controls have inadvertently locked, or uncommanded locking of the flight controls has occurred ?

      • http://www.rapp.org/ Ron Rapp

        I haven’t heard of any issues of that kind. But then, I’ve only been flying this airplane for three years and only get back to the recurrent classroom environment on an annual basis. The people who would hear most of those stories are the instructors. Which is part of the reason I think they’d be a great resource for assembling scenarios for the simulator.

  • Davey Simon

    How about actually preforming the before takeoff check? Including the flight control check?

    • LearGuy

      Davey, are you a G IV pilot