Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Some Tips On Landings And Take-Offs

Landings are something we do often.  If you have taken off, you are going to have to land somewhere.  The question is how to do it in the safest and most efficient manner.  A lot depends on what you are flying, how much experience you have and of course, the weather.  Landing a J-3 Cub is a lot different than a high speed single like a Bonanza.  

Factors to consider are of course the wind (speed and direction), type surface (grass or concrete), plane characteristics and of course, pilot skill.  I will go back awhile to landing and taking off at a small airport that had a runway made of asphalt.  Not only were there scattered stones on it, but it had a moderate slope and a tail wind.  Taking off was relatively easy, after you accounted for the stones/pebbles.  You just had not to use the entire runway, but taxi to where the runway became smoother and free of debris.

The take-off went well, just delay full power until clear of the debris.  Delaying full power and watching climb airspeed to be above stall were key.  All went well.  Now for the landing.  As there was a moderate cross wind of about ten knots a alignment was the main consideration.  Not being visually aligned with the runway take getting use to.  Depending on the runway length and the quality of your brakes, airspeed is an important factor to take into account.  

As all went well, there isn't much more to add.  So, adequate preparation before taking off and landing are mandatory for a safe flight.      

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Turbulent Flight I hope Never To Repeat

It's late in the month and I hate not to have written a blog. Reflecting on some of my past "challenging" flights brings back a flight from Albermarle, NC back to Rock Hill, SC. about a 60 mile flight. For a short while in 2000, I commuted to work at the hospital in Stanley County and back each evening to Charlotte and my hangar in Rock Hill SC. Normally, it should take about 25 minutes or so in the Bonanza, depending on the wind. It was the end of a workday, about 1800 hours, weather was VFR on departure. There was some frontal activity to the southwest, but nothing forecast on my route home.

Well things can change rapidly weather wise, and it sure did that day. Soon after departure I got into some widely scattered clouds and a moderate head wind but otherwise all was cool. Then suddenly it started to get a bit bouncy, light turbulence. I was at 3000 feet but getting jostled up and down a bit with my altitude starting to vary between 2500 and 3500 feet. The turbulence was so great at one time that I could barely read the instruments.  I called Charlotte approach but they didn't have much to say, just some complaints of light to moderate turbulence in the area.

Well that changed quickly as I hit some "moderate" turbulence that nearly flipped the plane 90 degrees over on a wing. This continued causing me concern and forcing me to throttle back to safe cruise speed just above stall. This lessened the severity of the turbulent flight but also meant I was in it longer. Contacting approach control again, no real help offered. As I was getting fairly close to Rock Hill, I kept on flying at just above stall.

Fortunately, everything stayed put. Nothing damaged by the horrific gusts and turbulence.  When I finally arrived at Rock Hill and parked in front of the hangar, and all shut down. I breathed a big sigh of relief. I don't remember ever having been in such turbulence for such a long time, and hope never to be again.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Oh No! I Forgot To Put The Gear Down

If you haven't yet had a "gear up" you are lucky, or maybe just well trained and careful. Although I have never had a gear up landing, I almost did.  Years back when I was doing some instrument flight training with an instructor in the right seat, I was on short final ready to touch down. The instructor said "have you forgotten something?"  I had not put the gear down.  That was a close call, but my only one, with over 4,000 hours of flying.  I offer a word of advice.  I have a routine which insures that the landing gear is down properly.  I look for the three green lights and think or say "three in the green."   In 2013 NASA reported an average of 60 gear up landings annually and in 2003 there were 96 reported by the NTSB. In addition, I don't know how many landing gear failures (LGF) occurred which may or may not be included under "gear up".

I just read an incidental study that landing gear ranks second after engines as systems prone to failure.
This is really a separate issue than routine gear ups. That is because the pilot at least tried to raise or lower the gear, but a mechanical situation prevented it from happening. Just to give you an idea of the more common causes of (LGF), I'll relate some given by DVI Aviation*.
          Improper rigging
          Improper repair or maintenance
          Improper installation of parts
          Parts worn beyond allowable service limits
          Failure or fatigue of parts
          Lack of lubrication and or hydraulic fluid

Finally, from a study by Canadian Aircraft Maintenance Management Information Systems**,
largely dealing with military planes, the following was found.  In surveying over 200 landing
gear structural component failures, the main mechanical problems involved: fatigue and corrosion.

So, in summary. Get your landing gear and related systems checked regularly, at least once a year.
During your landing approach, VFR or IFR say "three in the green" at least two or three times, after the gear has been deployed.  Happy, safe landings!

* DVI Aviation-Aviation Safety Experts
**Failure Analysis of Aircraft Landing Gear Components 1992

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

One Pilot's Path

I'm smiling as I look back at my first log book.  The first entry is on November 4, 1961.  Yes, I know that's going back some 56 years, that puts me at 21 year old.  I was taking my first flight lesson in a military Pa-18 at Felker Army Air Base located at Fort Eustis,Va. just west of Newport News. Back then I did a total of only 15 hours of flight time.  I just didn't feel comfortable flying then.  Mostly because I felt the instructor, a military pilot, was over bearing.  That pause lasted until May 9, 1965 some 4 1/2 years until I started again at Tew Mac a small airport in Massachusetts some 17 miles north of Boston.  The Piper J-3 I flew was owned by the flying club I joined while with the Avco Corp in Wilmington, Ma.

The point of all this, I guess, is to reflect on and pass on to prospective pilots how one can get started in aviation.  It seems important to me as now one hears so much of flying schools and various other programs.  I am glad I did it as an individual rather than as a member of some flight class at a flight school.  Somehow I developed a sense of independence and a progressive self reliance, rather than being led by the nose in a more structured program.

I persisted along this path for some 40+ years.  After getting my first license as a private pilot, which allowed me to take passengers, I kept on going.  Next, I obtained my instrument rating which allowed me to fly in bad weather.  I went soon after for my commercial rating which meant I could fly for hire. Finally, I went for a multi engine rating.  Mainly I did this so I could fly a company twin engine plane as a radiologist in upstate New York.

I would like to mention a couple of memorable flights that still stand out. The first, flying a J-3 Cub out of Tewksbury, Mass. north along a small river at about 500 ft. It was warm and I could leave the fold out windows open, really enhancing the feeling of being alone in the air. It felt so special to me, on one of my first solo flights. The other was years later out of Burlington Vermont. I was on call for emergency flights and I got a call at about 2330 hours. A skier at Lake Placid had taken a bad fall and needed high level medical help only available in the Burlington Vt, area at that time. So off I went in a Piper Navajo, a moderate sized 9 seater equipped with deicing etc., and made an instrument landing at Adirondack Regional airport. The weather was moderate IFR allowing for a safe approach and landing. The ambulance was waiting. We loaded the patient and his nurse aboard, took off IFR and were back in Burlington in 25 minutes. It was one of my most satisfying flights.  

Every pilot's flight path is different.  I thought I would share some of my experiences with you.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

How To Fly And Survive

Over the past five to six years, I have been writing about some of my flight experiences of the past 40 or so years.  I have used this blog as the recording medium. The goal of this writing is to share these flight experiences in an effort to help fellow pilots avoid senseless and possibly fatal flight accidents.

Let me offer an example of how not to do it.  Going back to 1967 in Syracuse, NY, where I was attending medical school, I needed to go to Boston for a quick visit.  To accomplish this I rented a Cherokee 180, marginally IFR equipped for the trip.  Three fellow students joined me.  Weather forecast was VFR, with some possible IFR.  This latter point is key.

My flight experience at the time, about 400 hours of VFR flying with some IFR instruction.  We left Syracuse under beautiful VFR conditions.  Some scattered clouds and a west (tail) wind of 20 to 30 knots.  This is important.  Flight distance about 260 miles, which meant a flight time of just under 2  hours at an airspeed of 120 mph (107 knots).  Landing was planned for Hanscom Field, about 20 miles west of Boston. 

After takeoff we climbed to 7500 feet, with a cruise speed of 150 mph (133 knots), thanks to the tail wind.  Sounds good, but wait. After passing Albany, it started getting cloudy, scattered to broken clouds.  This caused concern, especially as flight service advised possible marginal VFR for Boston at our ETA. So we continued until just west of Worcester.  Flight Service advised that Worcester was going IFR as was Boston. So, what to do? As I was not a fully trained or certified IFR pilot, I need VFR conditions to fly legally and safely. I decided to do a 180 degree turn and head back to Albany and Syracuse.  Fuel gauges showed somewhat more than ½ on both sides. That should be plenty except for the strong west wind!  Ground speed was now of the order of 80 mph per hour (70 knots).  Oh my.  Do we have enough fuel to get to Albany or Syracuse?  Well, in the interim, Albany was now IFR, also. That left Syracuse as our final alternate/destination as it had stayed VFR.  But, would we have enough fuel to make it? 

Since I am alive to write about it, you know we made it. Yes, but barely. As we approached Syracuse, the fuel gauges were hovering around E.  After taxiing in and shutting down, I looked in the fuel tanks and didn’t see any gas.  OUCH! 

The moral of this story.  Always have enough fuel aboard to fly another hour after landing as a safety measure. 


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Another Holiday Has Successfully Come And Gone....

Screenshot of Piper Navajo in flight.                                                                                                                        Another Holiday has successfully come and gone, our tree is still up. Looking forward to a pleasant and relatively quiet New Year. I have been doing some reflecting on things, appropriate to the year's end, and decided that this would be my last Operationsafeflight blog for a while. I have been writing articles since February 2009, and covered just about all areas that have concerned me.

My goal has been to help pilots adopt safer flight procedures, and offer some suggestions and cures where appropriate. My plan is to write articles less frequently. I will also be open to answering questions submitted to me

            Walter F. Erston, MD can be reached at:

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sometimes I read Things In The Newspaper That Really Scare Me....

Reading an article in the local Charlotte paper on doing away with required flight physicals taught me a lesson. Don’t believe everything you read, and do check the facts whenever possible. The Charlotte article stated that Senator Inhofe’s PBR2 would essentially do away with a required medical exam for Class 3  (private) pilots. Instead pilots would just write a note in their log every four years, that they’d been to see a physician.  Looking further into what was written, according to Joan Lowy of the AP, “a pilot would double the time allowed between exams for pilots over age 40 from two to four years, so long as they also held a valid driver’s license. Instead of a government-certified medical examiner, pilots could see any doctor they like”. It went on to state the doctor would not have to certify to the FAA that the “pilot was healthy enough to fly”. I am shocked at the proposal and worried that something like that will get enacted.

Flying is not like driving a car. There are so many other things to consider, in addition to simple road maps and traffic signals, such as the subtleties encountered in flight like weather, aircraft performance, navigation and communication to name a few. Even at its simplest, the challenges can be huge, and are either met or calamity may occur. That is why I believe physical and mental condition evaluation to be so important.

Just to reiterate an experience I had when flying the right seat in a Pa-34 Seneca, I had to take over landing at a Cleveland airport under IFR conditions when the left seater suddenly felt ill and was unable to continue. It turned out that he had missed getting his flight physical, which most likely would have detected the condition that caused this problem.

In summary then: I strongly encourage the continuance for required flight physicals for all categories of pilots. The spacing between exams may vary, but the exams are not to be done away with.  I strongly endorse the requirement that all pilots obtain a flight physical during their flight career.  The time interval between exams is a separate issue, that I won’t get into here.

Another issue I would like to discuss is weather, particularly thunderstorms. I recently came across another discussion of the hazards associated with flying when thunderstorms are around. This becomes an issue when one is flying IFR under radar control, or when VFR with the bad guys out there somewhere. If one is under the eye of a controller, don’t assume that they will always steer you or advise you safely around a dangerous cell in your path. Particularly, in busy air space like New York, Boston or Atlanta, to name a few, the controller may be just too busy to pay attention to all on his screen. I remember having to dodge a cell because I received a warning too late, and almost lost the plane. Now with radar aboard, and a pilot familiar with its usage, the odds get much better. Again, remembering one radar experience I had that almost ended up badly, because the radar set just couldn’t penetrate the storm adequately for me to see a clear path through it.

My advice is: don’t try getting through an area of storms unless you have a clear, accurate picture of what’s ahead of you and have the experience to handle it.  A 180 degree turn often can be a life saver.

Hope you have a happy Thanksgiving. Fly well and safely.