Monday, July 19, 2010

It pains me to read of another crash

It pains me to read about another plane crash, with all occupants dead, and no explanation other than “pilot error”. The pilot, older, with many years in the cockpit, should have been able to avoid the crash. From what I gather, the landing was balked because the plane was too fast and possibly high for the 4000 foot runway. You just can’t force some planes down on the tarmac if they aren’t ready. The result if you try, is to bounce, possibly porpoise, even hit the prop, as happened here. And, oh no, just read of another landing accident in a similar plane with similar terrible results, several days later.

As I smoke my philosophical pipe, feet propped up, and reflect on things, I wonder why things happen as they do. Have we become complacent to the point of relying on things
rather than knowledge, inherent to what we are doing. Is basic aeronautical science too abstract for the average pilot these days? Are flight instructors too casual in their teachings? Do they put their students through the rugged paces needed to deal with those
unplanned events that can lead to serious trouble? I mean really, a pilot should be able to handle a balked landing with the adroit application of power, and then proceed to land the plane once stabilized, again at the proper speed and attitude. That, as compared to trying to force or slam the plane down on the runway, when it still has enough energy or speed to fly.

Now, in all fairness, some planes are more difficult to land than others. One of the newer fixed gear, speed demons can be difficult to land from what I read. I am of course thinking about the Cirrus. The recommended approach speed is 78kn (1.3 Vso*). That is considerably faster than a Cessna 172RG, a somewhat comparable plane. Slower, but still a notch above many. I used to fly one, and enjoyed it. Vso of the RG was 50kn, and 1.3Vso was then 65kn. Considerably slower than the high performing Cirrus. I am wondering if the pilots that are having problems landing that bird are just not ready. Maybe, and this is only my opinion, they should have more hours flying the lower performers, as the C172’s until they have more flying experience. Then transition to the next higher category. Much as what I did, moving into the light twin category from singles.

On a technical note. One must remember that the kinetic energy of a moving object is proportional to the square of velocity. Therefore, landing at Vso in a Cirrus has 1.44 the energy to dissipate as compared to the Cessna 172 also at Vso. In a crash then, or in an emergency braking situation, there is almost 50% more energy to deal with at the higher speed. That can be a problem.

So, in summary. Getting there fast is nice, but really not all that important in the scheme of things. Rather, just lean back and enjoy the process, no matter how long it takes. When you reflect on your flying experiences, years later, you will remember the process, not how long it took.

*Vso- Stall speed in the landing configuration

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