Sunday, December 27, 2009

Keep it on the runway

The recent AA faux pas in Jamaica, almost going for a bath rather than a simple landing, reminded me of an early flight of mine that ended in a bad way. I was trying to land a Cessna 172 at NY38, Nedrow Air Park, a 2100 ft. paved runway with 50 ft trees at the north end. The field is no longer there ( I wish it hadn't been there then). Anyway I came in too high and fast and couldn't stop on the runway even by standing on the brakes. Unfortunately no reverse thrust available on the 172. However forward momentum was arrested by a well placed tree at the south end of the runway. I was lucky then to learn several lessons about landing. Lessons that stayed with me for the rest of my flying career.

So what were those pilots thinking as they tried to land a 737-800 with a questionable strong tailwind and a wet runway? Both of these factors: tailwind and water on the runway can significantly increase stopping distance of a landing airplane. These factors become much more critical if you are too high and too fast. In fact every 2 knots of tailwind will increase the landing distance (over no wind) by 10%. Standing water on the runway can increase the stoppping distance required by as much as 15%. So adding these things together makes for a challenging landing requiring speeds to be precise and touchdown as close to the threshold numbers as possible (not halfway down the runway).

According to Blake & Elliot in commercial aviation there is only one overrun per 3.6 million flights. They also state that 42% of commercial aviation accidents occur during final approach and landing.

So to avoid being a statistic when landing a pilot must plan his/her approach carefully keeping the following in mind. Fly the proper approach speed for plane configuration( no flaps to full flaps), wind conditions on the runway (allowing for gusts, head or tailwind etc), runway condition( dry,wet or icy). And of course length of runway including obstructions.

May your next landing be smooth and uneventful.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Are you ready to go?

Preflighting the plane isn't something pilots talk about much, not unless they are discussing some of the potentially disasterous things that may have happened to them. Things like forgetting to take the tow bar off the nose wheel before taxiing, or checking the fuel level in the tanks, or peeking around in the engine compartment when checking the oil level and finding an oily mechanics rag or a wrench. You get the idea now. An ounce of prevention may eliminate many pounds of pain later.
So what is a good plan for preflighting most singles and light twins? I used to start mine at the entrance to the cabin or cockpit. Then do a counter clockwise walk around the plane. starting out looking at the flaps(first lowering them) and ailerons, actually moving them and checking the hinge pins etc. Next, as you walk around the wingtip, check the lights and then the leading edge including the stall warning. If the master is on, when you flick the stall warning lever it should sound in the cockpit. Sounds like a lot, but if you move steadily and do it regularly it should only heve taken you less then a minute so far. Next of course is checking the fuel, both looking in the fill port to verify level of gas and to go under the wing and drain the sump. Don't just drain and dump, but actually look at what drains out into the cup (not just drain it onto the tarmac). You might have all water in the cup rather than fuel or a mixture. If in doubt, drain it again. Also when under the wing check the tires for inflation and tread. Look at the brakes-rotor and brake pads, or for leaking brake fluid. You never know when you might just badly need those brakes.
Next is a biggie, checking the engine compartment(s). Oil level is primary, but while the cowl or access port is open give the whole compartment the once over as possible. I know some models only have an opening to check the oil level. But if you can look for oil splatter or leaks, loose ignition cables and foreign objects as rags etc. During the spring check for bird nests, a real fire hazard.

Now as you round the nose look over the pitot and any other probe, radome etc. The nose wheel should be looked over and if there are gear doors check them too. Checking the left side of the plane is a repeat of the right. Walking back to the tail look over the fuselage, verifying that the static ports are clear. At the tail, remove all gust locks and move the elevator and rudder to see if they are free and that the hinges are intact. At some point check all the external lights.
Getting into the cockpit now you should be ready to start your before engine start check, to be discussed in another blog.

Enjoy another fun, safe flight. Those 5 to 10 minutes you just spent on exterior preflight may have saved your plane, life or both!
Incidentally I ran across an excellent preflight article at

Sunday, November 1, 2009

It's busy up there

For all the hours I spent in the cockpit, I can't ever remember being bored. There are just so many things that need to be done, overseen and thought about. To even think of entertaining myself with a video or computer game is unthinkable. Hey, but that's me.

So what is there to do? I'll give some examples of the myriad tasks that one can do. First and foremost fly the airplane. That means keep it upright at the desired heading and altitude and free of dangerous conditions such as ice and turbulence. To do the latter requires paying attention to the ever changing weather. That means updating your preflight weather via the radio or using some newer on line technique now available. Part of the problem with the more sophisticated planes is that they can be largely automated. The autopilot takes care of heading, altitude and aids in landing, but it can't think for you. If there is "traffic" at your 12 o'clock and five miles you must be looking out to avoid a midair. That means staying in touch with the ground facility that is watching over you e.g. approach control or center. Another reason to listen to the appropriate radio facility is that there might be an emergency such as a plane in distress that " center " is having trouble hearing and hopefully you can help. That has happened to me. One day center was having trouble communicating with a pilot who was in need of a clearance. I was asked to try and reach the pilot. As I was successful, they had me relay it to the grateful pilot. Made me feel useful and not bored. Also, a conscientious pilot will monitor 121.5, the distress frequency when able. Who knows one day you might be in trouble and need help. There are many examples of airline pilots helping out in cases like this (that is if they are not too busy with nonsense).

Other basic vital tasks include monitoring fuel status. Is there enough aboard to reach the destination with adequate reserve? If flying in IFR conditions is there enough fuel to reach the destination, and if the weather sours and you can't land, fly to the alternate, land with 45 minutes of fuel in reserve?

And so on. Believe me it never gets boring. Especially if you enjoy being up there and take your flying seriously.

Monday, October 26, 2009

That's my old airplane

It was an eerie, awful feeling to read about the recent crash with four dead in South Carolina. The plane, N62635, a Piper Aztec was one I had flown for over 700 hours years ago in Elmira,NY. It was a forgiving plane if not a bit slow and heavy. It had all the bells and whistles for IFR flight, including some de-ice capabilities. Basically a great plane to fly if you weren't in a big hurry.
The crash apparently occurred right after take-off. There was a post crash fire with no survivors. According to the NTSB immediate post crash report the plane was inverted and off to one side of the end of the runway. So what was the most likely cause?
It certainly sounds like an engine out shortly after take-off. The worst time for a twin. Wheels coming up, not a lot of excess speed over stall and slowly accelerating. So what is one supposed to do. The old wisdom was if the gear is on its way up you are committed to fly. A pilot must immediately: identify the dead engine, verify and feather. Sounds easy but are you mentally prepared? When did you last practice the procedure with an instructor? The stopwatch is ticking, not many seconds can pass without definitive action. Wait too long and a stall and quick spin in are imminent. All said, there are no guarantees to a safe outcome. Afer all, there is a risk to flying that cannot be reduced to zero.
Well, how about this scenario? One engine quits right after liftoff, gear starting to come up, you are VFR with a fairly clear path in front (no big buildings) why not just retard both throttles and do a controlled crash straight ahead. No different than if both engines quit on take-off. At least you would have a chance then.

In summary. If you are flying a twin, before you advance the throttles for take-off, think what if an engine quits on take-off? If the wheels are still down then land. If the wheels are on the way up be prepared to feather the dying engine or cut both throttles and land straight ahead as terrain permits.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

If my engine quits will I be prepared?

Everytime you get set to shove the throttle or throttles forward for the start of your take-off roll you should be thinking what if my engine quits. If it happens on the ground, easy decision, pull the throttle(s) off and try to stop on the runway. Once one is airborne things change, different choices depending on variables such as: altitude, single or twin, terrain, weather, and pilot skill. But one thing is certain, if you are in a single with a dying engine you will be a glider. I won't get into twin techniques for dealing with this, but will stick to a single.

Let us presume you are just off the runway 500 feet climbing and the engine starts sputtering. Just this scenario, although exact events are stiil not clear, happened last week at UZA ( Rock Hill, SC), an airport I know well as I used to keep my plane there. The plane a high performance turbo-charged single piloted by a pilot with slightly less than 400 hours. Apparently the pilot tried to make it back to the field but instead augered in, totally destroying both pilot and plane. The recommended procedure is to drop the nose to best glide speed as you look for a place to put the plane down. Trying to get back to the airport if you are too low will often lead to just what happened. Attention to airspeed is paramount as that is what is keeping the plane airborne. Too fast and you lose distance available, and too slow you stall. Every plane has a recommended glide speed as a function of gross weight. These speeds should be enblazened in your mind. Depending on the winds aloft, headwind vs. tailwind, the best glide speed will need some modification. With a headwind add 1/2 the headwind velocity to the best glide speed. For a tailwind decrease the best glide speed by about 10-20%.

When near the ground, fly the plane (glider) to a landing. Do not let it stall. Gear and flap positions need to be decided upon as both will affect your glide and how far and how fast you descend.

Ok, well in another scenario, you are at 8500 ft VFR over friendly terrain and the engine quits. So what do you do? Again, keep the plane flying at best glide speed to maximize the time aloft. Look around and choose your landing option early. You might do a circle to make sure there is no ideal spot to put down if you hadn't looked before. Once you have made your choice, set up a normal traffic pattern rather than trying to land straight in. So fly a downwind, base and final leg if able. This is something you are used to and familiarity should help. Whether to lower the gear in a retractable or not depends on how rough things are down there. Flaps will lower your stall speed and plane attitudes and sink rate will change. One author wrote about the aim point you need to establish in the windshield to help you know if you can make it to your destination. Pick a spot down where you are headed. If it starts rising in the windshield you won't make it, and your landing spot will be closer.

Finally as part of your recurrent training practice a simulated engine out from the downwind by bringing the engine to idle. If you don't trust yourself take an instructor with you.

Hopefully your engine will keep on purring, but if it quits you'll be ready to deal with it if you are prepared.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

All of a sudden all I could see was an airplane

The recent mid air disaster over the Hudson reminded me of an incident overn norhtern Massachusetts some years ago. I was flying VFR at 9500 in my 1965 Baron heading to Burlington, VT. It was nice and clear with only a few scattered cumulus clouds, really nothing to block visibility at my altitude. I was squawking a VFR transponder code but not in contact with any ATC facility. In that region it would most likely have been Boston Center. But hey it was a Sunday and there shouldn't have been much traffic.

When all of a sudden my view out the windshield changed from blue sky to a Bonanza type single engine plane passing directly and obliquely across my flight path. There wasn't any time to react. This plane had overflown my flight path at a 45o angle from behind. They should have had me in plain sight if they were looking. But they apparently weren't. This was before texting too.

I was so shook up I called Boston Center and asked if they were communicating with the traffic that just had overflown me? They were not working anyone in my area.

The lesson I guess is that you should use all available means to help prevent a mid-air . But, even if you do, you might need Lady Luck to watch out for you. They could have used her last week over the Hudson.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Supplemental 0xygen should be aboard

The recent depressurization of another airliner got me to thinking and remembering a "high altitude" incident I experienced many years ago.

When I was a young buck flying a C-172 between Syracuse and Boston vfr I ended up at 15500 feet to get over a large cloud deck. Now that's pretty high without supplemental O2. I did ok but did feel a bit light headed. Luckily it was daytime and the clouds were nice enough to dissipate over central Mass. Supplemental oxygen would have been helpful and should have been aboard. Part 91 of the FARs states that you can only fly between 12500 and 14000 feet for 30 minutes without supplemental oxygen. Above 14000 ft the flight crew must have O2 and above 15000 ft all passengers must have supplemental O2. This of course is in a non-pressurized aircraft. The high altitude rules for 35000 ft and above are interesting. Look them up. Just google FARs.

Well, keep safe and use your O2 when needed to keep from getting anoxic.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Is your "co-pilot" ready to take over the controls?

The recent death of a senior airline captain at the controls should pose as a potent reminder that we all may become incapacitated at the most inopportune times. Armed with that possibility what should be done?

Well for a start, I'll briefly discuss the options and possible outcomes in the case of single pilot operations. Assuming that the pilot is suddenly totally incapacitated, what is the passenger sitting in the right seat to do? Panic is the most obvious option with an unpleasant and predictable outcome. But what if there had been a brief discussion before take-off including the handing to that person an instruction sheet of things to do, a "what if protocol"? Things such as: if the auto-pilot is on, leave it on. If not, push the auto pilot button to turn it on. These suggestions and those that follow assume that the plane is in a fairly stable flight regimen i.e. not take off or landing. How to keep the plane level and upright is a bit much to try and tell someone in a casual 30 second briefing. So anyway, the next thing is to call for help. That is done by keying the mike and calling Mayday three times and listening for a reply. Remember that the distress frequency 121.5 is universally monitored, and a prompt reply is almost a guarantee.

So now you get the idea. PPPPPP (prior planning prevents p-s poor performance) as mentioned in an earlier blog.

I have read accounts of ground personnel talking an unskilled passenger safely down in a small plane. Lets hope this scenario is not ever to be. But if it were, will you be prepared?

I just read an interesting write-up or to do list more complete, but also geared for someone with some flying know how by K. Truemper at:
Have a look and happy, safe flying.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Before You Go-Know Where To Stop To Abort

Reading about some recent mishaps involving inadvertant collisions between airplanes and trees, reminds me of a flight to Hendersonville, NC (OA7) in our Be-36, several years ago. Landing at this particular strip was ok, but taking off another matter. Although the runway is 3075 ft long by 40 wide and aligned 15/33 there turned out to be worrysome factors for this pilot. There was a considerable slope downhill towards the southeast terminating in a line of tall trees. It was warm and the wind although light was out of the NW. The slope meant landing uphill and taking off downhill unless one had JATO tanks aboard, with a slight tailwind.

Well, it got to be departure time and as we taxied to the departure end I noticed lots of small stones on and around the runway. That meant better be slow in advancing the throttle or risk flying stones in the prop and denting the skin. So we got rolling slowly and as I approached my half way visual check point (decision point for go no go) we had barely 60 knots, the trees looking menacing ahead. So I aborted the take-off with the usual discomfort, especially for my wife, the sole passenger. At this point my wife wanted nothing further to do with the plane, I could't blame her. She got out and I decided to do a practice short field take-off following usual procedures. I taxied back to the end of 15 and set 10 degrees flaps. Gunned the engine as soon as I was clear of the stones and was airborne and climbing by midfield. I landed and after promising my wife the moon and a four star meal she climbed back in the plane and we headed back to CLT.

So the message is always have a visual check point picked out to decide if you can safely make your take-off.

If you haven't reached your target speed by this point abort and try something else as I had to do i.e. short field technique. Trees or other obstacles surrounding the runway/airport must be avoided by using proper landing and departure techniques. When landing over an obstacle it is important to fly at your minimum safe approach speed or you will risk overshooting the runway.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Learn to coummunicate like the pros

Before I really ever did much of my own flying, I listened to ATC communications on my aircraft radio while watching the inbounds to Logan from my rooftop. Sounds goofy but I learned a lot about what and how to say it. I still turn on my transceiver occasionaly, just to listen and keep the lingo and rhythm in my head.

You don't hear the pros saying ah, um or waiting seconds to answer. No, they know what is expected and are ready with an appropriate reply. For example: United 123 you are cleared to 14000, not to exceed 250 knots. Roger 14 at 250, United 123. That is preferable to repeating the whole thing and wasting everyone's time.

Copying clearances can be tricky. However it is vital that they are copied verbatim as an error can be costly. So be prepared to copy complicated changes in routings, new clearances etc.

To make it easier to write as you fly, get a strap on writing pad arrangement for your thigh. They are commercially available. I even made my own when I was starting out.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Flying out of trim

We were coming back from France on a 767. I was seated by the window (of course) just aft of the left wing. My attention was drawn to the various moving wing surfaces during the various phases of the flight. Slats on the front, outboard and inboard ailerons and the spoilers. As I was seated next to the inboard ailerons, I was puzzeled as to why they were deflected, left down 10 and the right (yes, I went to look) up 10 degrees. They should have been flush with the wing. I started thinking that if they were not needed as in a turn, then they were creating unneeded drag. Increased drag means that you burn more fuel and ya de dah. As I didn't want us to have to go swimming, I decided to share my concerns with the flight crew. It took several conversations with a steward to get to talk with the Captain, who was none too pleased to see me up in the first class cabin area. Sitting up there incidentally was Lance Armstrong coming back from another championship ride. I shared my observation about the inboard ailerons with the Captain. He thanked me politely, then turned on his heels and I returned to my seat. Within 30 seconds after I sat down I saw the ailerons return to a neutral, in-line position.

Yes, I felt a bit foolish over my concern, but the point had been made. Flying out of trim is not in your best interest.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Approach with care

Several years ago I was in the right seat of a lovely almost new Baron, years younger than mine, providing the eyes for a relatively new twin pilot who wanted to do some approaches. We started out for the ILS 35 at ILM. After a clearance from the controller we were on our own. It didn't take long for me to wonder what was happening as we wern't on a part of the approach I knew. So I asked and after a pause the pilot replied he wasn't sure. That was not good and I requested vectors for another approach without giving a reason. This time it was better. Ignorance is bliss, yes but it may kill you,so beware.
An instrument approach is the cats meow. If flown correctly it can put you right on the numbers every time. Note the if. Well what is required? For starters having the data to fly the approach. These can be obtained from various sources. My favorite was Jeppesen. A bit pricey but loaded with the info you need in a readable format.

OK, so now you have the charts out you must look them over. If there is an ATIS on the field, listen to it in plenty of time to get all the pertinent data: wind, ceiling and active runway. This will allow you to select the best approach for the weather/runway. If you don't need the ILS because of a high ceiling maybe the VOR will do and save you some time. This of course depends on the specifics. Sometimes the ILS can be the simplest depending on factors such as traffic.

Say for example we choose the ILS, the most precise, it is time to study the details of the approach. These include altitude at the initial segment, inbound heading and minimum descent altitude. The MDA is critical, busting minimums is not a viable option. It is pertinent here to say that if this approach is to be flown outside the radar environ without approach control guidance, the ball will rest squarely in your court. Now you will be dropped off by center and "cleared for approach" all on your own. Before I offer a check list for performing an approach I should add that you should glance at the missed approach procedure, especially in the non radar setting.

All right so far? Now let's break up the approach into three segments

1. Enroute to the FAF

Set radios, confirm correct freq. with audio
Maintain position awareness (know where you are on the approach-there may be high terrain nearby or even a restricted area).
Crosscheck data with your DME, GPS, ADF
Approach flaps and ready for gear down
Fuel on mains (usually)
Check autopilot on if using a coupled approach
Recheck altitude

2. Final approach fix

Gear down-confirm
Cross check altitude vs. GS if on ILS
Especially if on A/P
Call out altitudes every 500 ft (yes, even if flying solo)
Review minimums and missed proc.

3. Landing Assured (runway in sight and free of traffic)
Final gear check
Disconnect A/P if used

That's it in a nutshell. Follow these guidelines or something of your own doing, BUT do have a procedure for insuring that you cover all your bases, and you will have a good safe approach and happy ending to your flight.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Three In The Green Or Else!

It is absolutely shocking to read the FAA daily accident lists and see how many are due to " landed gear up". Out of a list of ten accidents two to three are gear related. Not all are called "landed gear up" but rather gear failure or landing gear collapsed ( another of the same). If you dont believe me go to the FAA accident site for April 6, 2009, and count the number of gear related accidents. (5)

Now fortunately these are seldom fatal, but they sure can ruin your day and dig deep into your pocketbook. And oh how embarrassing. The only time I ever came close to a gear up was when I was taking a check ride in a light twin. The instructor in the right seat waited until I was about to touch down, and finally said in his terse manner, "aren't you going to put the gear down"? Well a go around is better than a hole in the ground.

So what can be done to avoid this expensive mistake? Well, very simply have a check list of your own that includes at least: checking the GEAR DOWN three times. Flying VFR in the pattern, on downwind drop the gear as you turn base leg. Audibly say GEAR DOWN as you check for the gear down lights. I used to enjoy saying "Three In the Green" as if a military pilot. Then again as you turn final check for the lights and say "GEAR DOWN".
And one final time just before touching down, check for the lights and say "GEAR DOWN".
On an INSTRUMENT approach you can still do the gear check three times. One at the start of the final segment such as at the outer marker, then at minimums, and finally at the flare.

If you do this religiously you will not appear on the FAA website as another "landed gear up".

Happy Safe Landings!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Radar Contact - Better Stay Alert

I was flying VFR at 9500 feet in an A-36 in the Harrisburgs approach sector "radar contact". The weather typical of August, murky with scatered CB's and visibility lower than you like. Destination was Bloomsburg not over 5o miles away. All of a sudden out of the corner of my left eye I saw an airliner heading north slightly higher than we were and about 1/4 of a mile away. Hey what gives I queried the controller. He replied US Air such and such IFR at 10,000 feet, no factor. Maybe not for US Air with his TCAS system and all their bells and whistles. Well it may be legal, but 500 feet vertically really doesn't provide much separation. To add to the adrenaline rush not soon after I happened to look down and right under us, perhaps 500 feet below was a twin turboprop commuter. Once again I ask approach what gives? "Oh, our error the trainee working the site forgot to call out the traffic to you". Great I think to myself, what next? Well things happen in threes. The Stormscope had been showing a line of lightning strikes (cells) at our 9 0'clock approximately 1 mile away. Suddenly there was a big boom and a flash, the plane bucked and dropped a few hundred feet and the autopilot uncoupled. My wife screamed. In the center of the Stormscope now there was an x, indicating a new lightning strike.

Now someone might say we should have been IFR to get better separation from traffic and get weather advisories, but I say yes but in the murk with CB's all around I don't trust ground radar to keep us out of the big stuff. Also remember that you only may have a 500 foot altitude separation. So, you pays your money and takes your chances. In the best of worlds you would have your own radar to keep you clear of storm cells. I have flown with it and thought it very helpful.

So in summary, we were lucky with two near misses and avoiding a catastrophe with the near lightning strike. Don't let your guard down when "Radar Contact". Remember that the responsibility for flying the plane rests squarely in the left seat.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Watching the Pros do it!

Yesterday was heavy overcast (300/1) at KCLT, and as I needed a flying fix, I drove out there and stood at the approach end of 36 center. The planes came in out of the mist, landing lights announcing their presence. One after the other, rain/water vapor streaming off their wings, all on the glideslope. One heavy scared me a bit as it was very low overhead, touching down just beyond the threshold. Well, so what? I guess the thing that strikes me is that there is one thing in common to all these perfectly executed landings: precision. Precision is achieved only by following accepted procedures practiced under all conditions over and over again.
So, don't expect to fly an ILS with both needles centered down to minimums without having done it many times before (using the auto-pilot for a coupled approach is not considered here,as autopilots can malfunction). One of the key things in any procedure such as instrument approaches is planning. Planning for all sorts of contingencies. For example: you are a bit low on fuel and #1 on approach when you are told to go around because a plane is on the runway. You must comply and that could mean another ten to twenty minutes in the air depending on airports and traffic. Or the glide slope has gone off the air and now the minimums are too high to land at the airport and you must go that alternate you quickly gave as you filed your flight plan. Both of these complications can be handled if you planned properly and have enough fuel aboard.
Many other things can and do go wrong all the time. So Practice, Practice and Practice again. Realistically and with a good competent check pilot.
Years ago in the Army Sgt, Keller gave us this acronym: PPPPPP-Prior Planning Prevents P-s Poor Performance. I have never (well almost never) forgotten it.
Posted by Walter F. Erston at 10:33 AM

Friday, February 27, 2009

Wrong way Corrigan or haste makes waste.

Early in my flying days I pulled a real dumbo. Cause, not doing a proper pre take-off check of the instruments. The plane was a Cessna 172 based in Tewksbury,MA. The four of us were heading down to the Cape for a day on the beach. Weather was CAVU. The plane was headed north for take-off and away we went. After a short while though, things seemed a bit strange as there were some big hills ahead with mountains in the background. Oh no, how embarassing, we were over New Hampshire rather than Massachusetts. We were headed 180 degrees the wrong way! Ahem, as I casually explained that we were sightseeing a bit before our trip south.

What happened of course is that I had somehow set the non-slaved gyro to the reciprocal compass heading . I hadn't checked that the gyro, compass and runway headings all matched.

What was missing was an orderly, compulsively executed pre take-off check list. This should include at the least: CIGARR ( Controls, Instruments, Gas, Attitude,Radios,Run-up).

At any rate we had an uneventful journey otherwise; arriving safely in time for a swim and a safe return home.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ice will get you unless you do it right

Flying in icing conditions is tricky but may be dealt with successfully if you keep the plane flying. Basically an airfoil that is covered with ice is very inefficient, producing less lift and lots of drag. As the icing increases things get very dicey such that one may be at the edge of stall and not know it. Also once the ice is on, it is most difficult if not impossible to get off, with the exception of rime ice on boots (sometimes but not always). That being the case it was the common wisdom not to do anything too drastic to alter the aerodynamics, that included not adding flaps or any sudden or extreme control surface movement.

So, what to do. If it is too late to climb out of the icing you better get down quickly. Since there is a lot of drag don't be afraid to add all the power you've got to keep from stalling. Your stall warning indicator should be heated to help you in this. Remember stall speeds are not what they were with a clean airfoil. If you are on approach, declare an emergency and expedite descent. Again, don't change the aerodynamics by adding flaps or dropping the gear early. Wait as long as possible to do the latter.
Using the the autopilot may be dicey as it will try to maintain heading , altitude and or glidesope irrespective of whats out there on the empennage and may put you in a stall. Therefore it would seem best not to engage it.

The moral then is to avoid ice, but if you are caught remember to keep the airspeed above stall anyway you can. Flying with ice is like pushing a baby carriage full of nitroglycerine. Better do it very carefully.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Check it or get checked out

Very recently a Cessna 421 got refueled at a midwest airport. The pilot told the line service to add 80 gallons of fuel, 40 on each side and then he left for the night. A long trip was planned for the next day. After take off the pilots noted a loss of power in both engines. Full RPMs but no oomph. The result, a Mayday call and a 180 turn. Unfortunately they couldn't make the airport and crashed in a field. They all survived, although the plane was mangled. The cause was easy to determine. The addition of Jet fuel instead of Av Gas.
( See: NTSB Jan'09 Case CEN09LA145). The two fuels just don't belong in the same tank! How could this have been avoided? Well for one: carefully communicate with the refueler or the desk clerk. Better than that: Stay there and watch the process of refueling. The extra time spent may save your life.

Friday, February 6, 2009

To go or not to go that is the question

I was sitting in the left seat of my Cessna 340 getting set for a check ride with my friend a US Air pilot. We were going to do the usual procedures: airwork, simulated engine out and some practice approaches. But before we got started, he asked the following: if the weather is down to or close to minimums for a radius of 300 miles or so would you take-off. Good question. I wasn't sure of the answer, as the Cessna 340 could easily overfly the bad weather and get to something better. But what if all did not go as planned and an imminent landing was needed? Now under duress an instrument landing to minimums or less might be necessary with one engine running rough or out. Worse yet if we were flying a single and developed engine problems. Or what if the forecast weather beyond the 300 miles goes down and the amount of fuel becomes a problem. Remember that you are required to have enough fuel to reach an alternate and still have 45 minutes of fuel aboard. So better stop and think it through. Leave yourself an out. If you try to cut it too close you may lose and end up a statistic.

Moral: Always leave yourself an out. Don't get boxed in.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Fly right but not from the right seat

When I was a third year medical student in Syracuse, I became friends with my cardiology professor who was also a pilot. As he did not have his instrument rating, he invited me to fly with him to Cleveland in his Cherokee 6. We left Syracuse and headed for Burke Lakefront in VFR. As we passed the Buffalo area, it started getting cloudy with snow showers (not forecast). Luckily I had brought along my instrument charts and filed an IFR flight plan with Cleveland center. Now the fun part. The weather degraded such that we had to make an ILS approach with me flying in the co-pilot's seat. There were no duplicate gages in front of me, so I had to lean over the center console to see the HSI, DG and Vor/Loc indicators. I took over flying at the outer marker and we did ok, but it was not a very safe arrangement. I vowed never to do that again, and haven't.

Moral: If you go flying with some else, make sure you know their capabilities and what might be expected of you.

Ice: Beware, it's everywhere

You know that the freezing point of water is 32 F, so when it gets down there it becomes important to drain those sumps in the wing and, in some cases, the engine. Little ice particles or chips may not cause any problems, but they could.  Certainly water in a fuel line allowed to freeze would, if enough ice is formed.  Another time, I will get into surface accumulation on the airplace, in flight and on the ground.  

Rime ice on leading edge

Ice may or may not be nice

One winter day in Vermont, I was headed down to Boston on business in my 1965 B-55 Baron. It was a good ol' bird, but only had minimal anti-ice equipment: heated pitot and alcohol props.  These were important as generally the weather reports always contained some ice warning such as light to moderate rime icing in clouds and precipitation.  In the Baron, this was okay, as the plane could easily handle light or even moderate rime ice.  The trick was not to stay in icing conditions too long. Generally, this meant climbing higher to colder air.  This particular trip was no different.  On climb out of Burlington, I experienced light rime ice on the leading edges of the wings which stopped as soon as I had climbed above the clouds (IFR flight plan).  The rest of the trip was cake.  The sobering thing was, after returning to Burlington, I learned about a Mooney 20 or 21 that had crashed in the Rutland area apparently due to icing experienced the same day at about the same time I did. The difference?  Different planes can handle things like icing with more or less capability.  The Mooney, for example, has a sleek, very efficient laminar wing that cannot tolerate any ice.  

Moral of the story:  know your airplane, its capabilities and limitations and don't try to beat them.