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.