Monday, December 24, 2012

Deadly Private-Plane Crashes On The Increase

Flying by private-pilots isn’t getting any safer (better?). According to Bloomberg News (Deadly Private-Plane Crashes Prompt U.S. Call For Basics, June 19,2012), the crash rate on private-pilots is up 20 percent since 2000, contrasting with an 85% drop in accidents of commercial jet liners (good). Looks as if private-pilots need to do a lot better, and here goes more supporting data. The accident rate for all GA (General Aviation) is 7/100,000 from 2007-2010. Private pilots, mostly small single engine a/c, averaged 12/100,000 crashes. They go onto say: over 12 times higher than the average rate for other types of GA flying. And to continue, even worse news: the rate of deadly wrecks in private flying has grown faster than the accident rate as a whole, up 25% since 2000. Do you wonder why insurance premiums have risen?

The article continues: many GA accidents resulted from inattention to basics. (Reminds me of my article suggesting that pilots are distracted by things in the cockpit like cell phones, tablets etc.). Pilots have overloaded planes, failed to check the weather, and made errors that caused the planes to lose lift and/or going out of control. This latter cause was found to be the case in most accidents by the FAA and the GA Joint Steering Committee. Not very encouraging data is it? Pilots you can do better! Start by going back to basics. Pay attention to attitude, airspeed and the weather for starters, rather than staring at the GPS screen instead of the glideslope and localizer (when IFR).

Finally, I want to report and offer suggestions how to avoid the most frequent type of airline accident, the runway overrun after a botched approach. This was reported in the WSJ on 12/19/12. Hey fellow pilots, it pertains to all of GA as well, even though I don’t have the stats particularly for private-pilots.

Of all the GA overrun accidents I have read about on the NTSB website, this one stands out in my memory. A Cirrus landing in VFR weather, on a reasonable length paved runway, just couldn’t put the plane down on the tarmac and tried to force it with resulting “wheel barrowing”. The plane still had enough airspeed (energy) to want to keep on flying, which it did, into a building. All were killed. It is so important to pay attention to airspeed and attitude on final. Too fast, steep or shallow an approach can end up as they did, unless you recognize your error and if you can’t correct things in time, add power and go around. The other consideration is where you touch down on the runway. Somewhere in the first 25% of the runway makes good sense. In good VFR, shoot for the runway numbers. I used to do that even in my twins. That should insure that you have plenty of runway left to decide whether you can stop or not. Remember that small planes don’t have the greatest braking capability. So PLAN AHEAD!

A topic I want to tackle in the future is limits pilots should adhere to in single engine IFR flight conditions. Another is looking into reasons for engine failures in light planes, as there seems to be so many reported on the FAA accident website.

That’s it for now. Have a good holiday and watch out for Santa’s sleigh. See you next year.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Subject of Slips Came Up When I Was Visiting With.....

The other day I was visiting with a pilot friend who is renewing his flying skills for his new motor glider. While discussing some of the subtleties of landing, we got onto the subject of slips.  They are so useful as a means of losing altitude quickly on a short final. It has been quite a while since my J-3, Pa-18 flying days, when I was prone to slip a bit. The former, just after getting my private pilot’s license, the latter when I did some glider towing in the Ithaca, NY area.  Anyway, I always remember entering a slip by simultaneously applying aileron one way and rudder the other to compensate. It always felt pretty smooth and a bit uncoordinated but fun. It could at times have you hanging a bit on your seat belt too, all ok though.  I also remember letting the nose drop a bit to keep the airspeed above stall. My pilot friend told me his instructor told him to apply rudder first rather than simultaneously. Not sure as to what benefit this may have.  I tried looking this up today, but didn’t get any support for that. There are many ways to “skin a cat” says it all I guess.

While on a subject dear to tail draggers, I want to remind new J-3 pilots or others who hand prop to start the engine, to tie the tail down first. This is to prevent the plane from taking off or careening wildly out of control, while the pilot watches in horror. This happens from time to time and has severely injuredand even killed  both pilots and innocent bystanders or passengers. Just chocking the wheels may not be enough, so please heed this advice.

So, with that I wish everyone a happy and safe holiday season.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

It Isn't Every Day That I Can Say That I had A Chat With An Airline Pilot

It isn’t every day that I can say that I had a chat with an airline pilot. But yesterday I did. While waiting in line with my wife to vote early, I saw   a gentleman in a pilot’s uniform just ahead of me. Rather timidly I tapped him on the shoulder, just below his first officer’s epaulets, and introduced myself.  I was wearing my EAA ball cap, purchased at Oshkosh several years ago, and it served to introduce me as another pilot (although not an ATP flying for the airlines). We exchanged pleasantries, including when we had been to Oshkosh. Then he asked what type of planes I had been flying and so on. When I mentioned the Baron, he shook his head in approval, a great plane he thought. Then I found out he was flying Airbus 320’s, the big boys. I was very impressed. Next he offered that he didn’t think he could fly the small private type planes anymore. Not only was flying a large airliner totally different, but the Airbus in particular was practically all automated. To quote him “once you advance the throttles for take- off it is all automated”. That brought back the memory of the Airbus over the south Atlantic that had autopilot failure associated with severe turbulence. Those pilots were not familiar enough with hand flying the big bird and ultimately succumbed, with a total loss of plane and personnel. My new acquaintance then offered that his airline was insuring that their pilots had training to deal with the situation of autopilot failure. I was very pleased to hear that.

All this ties in with one of my concerns, discussed in an earlier article. What if your EFIS goes blank? Are you prepared to take over with the old analog instruments? If not you had better get some retraining on those techniques. It is just a matter of when, not if you might experience a partial or complete failure. I was glad to see an ad for a small glass HSI type instrument that had its own lithium battery. A nice thing to have when the big screen goes blank.

Several days ago, while out on a walk, I happened to look up and see what appeared to be two airliners on a collision course. They were converging on what seemed to be the same altitude. Maybe they were 500 feet apart vertically with some lateral separation, no way to tell from my position on the ground. I thought of TCAS, certain it was buzzing in both cockpits, warning the pilots of both planes of danger ahead (see article written last month).

Finally, I want to touch on the topic of planning ahead. Whatever the task, you must be ahead of the airplane. The tasks that require the most pre-planning are instrument approaches and low IFR take-offs. Being ready for an ILS approach in low IFR requires that you know the procedure well in advance. Even if you have an autopilot coupled approach capability, you’ve got to know certain things ahead of time.  All the data is located on your approach plate. I swore by Jeppesen charts, (Jeps), as opposed to the government brand. So study the chart well ahead of time. Know the entry altitude and heading of the approach, as well as how to identify the outer marker,the details of a “missed” etc.

As an example of what can happen, let me relate a flight from the past. I was in the right seat of a Cherokee 6 inbound to Burke Lakefont in Cleveland. In the left seat was a distinguished cardiologist, but I was to find out on approach, non IFR rated pilot. The weather was moderately low IFR with light snow falling. He became flustered as the approach neared, finally fessing up that he didn’t really know how to shoot the approach. As I had studied the approach plates, and had a few real IFR flights under my belt, I said “Let me have the controls, I can get us in”. Well we made it ok, in spite of having to look sideways at the gages from the right seat. If I hadn’t studied the approach ahead of time it could have been a disaster.

I’ll just touch on IFR take-offs. Before you shove the throttle/s forward, ask yourself what if I lose power or have some other serious problem on take-off? What are my options? Obviously if just off the ground and in the clear, try and land straight ahead. Once you are in the soup however, it is a different matter. If you can stay airborne, and the weather is above minimums you can go for an approach at the airport you just left. If the field is really socked in, you may have to find another airport with better weather. This is where planning ahead comes in. You had better do the research on the ground ahead of time, before the sweat is pouring off your brow and time is running out.

So, plan ahead and be prepared, to help you stay out of trouble. A few minutes of pre planning can save you from making a life threatening mistake later.



Monday, September 17, 2012

As I Look Up Into The Sky I See Two Jet Airliners...

As I look up into the sky I see two jet airliners on what could be a collision course. As they pass each other harmlessly, their wakes streaming behind, I think about all the technology protecting them. Looking up at them from the ground, or even from a higher altitude, it might not be possible to be certain that the planes won’t collide. Protecting them is TCAS (Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System).

Before getting into what TCAS is all about I reflect on some flights I had piloted and had near misses. One that first comes to mind, was a flight from western Massachusetts to Burlington, VT in my B-55 Baron. Flying VFR at 7500 feet in the clear, suddenly a plane shot by from my right rear diagonally in front, at my altitude, missing me by what seemed only a few feet. The only thing I saw was that it was a low winged single, possibly a Bonanza. When I recovered enough to key the mike, I called Boston Center and reported the near miss. They weren’t in communication with that plane, although they did have it on radar. This was before most planes had some form of altitude reporting, so they really couldn’t have effectively warned me. Which one of my nine lives had I used on that one?

There were others, but none as close as this one was. I remember flying in and out of the murk and looking down at a large fighter bomber, B-1, about 500 feet below me on a diagonal course. I had received an alert from ATC (Air Traffic Control) on that one. Another was encountered somewhere over Massachusetts again. It was marginal VFR, and again an alert from ATC advising about an airliner at my 10 o’clock and ½ mile away. We barely saw that one. TCAS would have been nice to have there.

Now it is time to briefly explain what TCAS is and how it operates. TCAS is a system independent of the ground based ATC system. To work at the simplest level (TCAS-I), an airplane must have an operating transponder with an altitude reporting capability, (Mode C or S). It is designed for general aviation aircraft with a passenger capacity of up to 30. “Intruder” aircraft up to 40 miles away can be detected and an alert issued. The alert is depicted on a gage on the instrument panel. Approximate bearing and relative altitude data are shown.  But it is up to the pilot to visually spot the “intruder”, and take whatever evasive action is needed. This seems ok in good visibility conditions, but not in IFR type weather. But in IFR conditions, one would normally be in radio contact with ATC, who should issue traffic alerts and offer vectoring to avoid collisions.

The next higher level of TCAS is TCAS-II. This is much more complex and required for larger transport type aircraft. Briefly, traffic alerts (TA’s) as well as resolution advisories (RA’s) are automatically issued by the system in the form of aural and visual data. The RA’s offer only climb or descend commands, that are to be followed immediately, regardless of ATC commands. Eventually, lateral type evasion commands may be given under the newer TCAS-III and TCAS-IIII systems as well as climbs and descents.   

So the next time you look up and see planes that may be on a collision course, don’t worry, big brother TCAS is at work. Fly safely and do keep your eyes peeled for traffic, even if you have a TCAS system aboard, as no system is 100% perfect.

*See Wikipedia and Google for more on TCAS.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Your Reaction Time May Be Slower Than You Think

Have you ever thought about your reaction time as a function of how data is presented to you? For example, try driving a specific speed, let’s say 35 mph. If you have a needle on the speedometer indicating the speed, you can easily see a change when the needle moves either up or down. Your eye is really quite sensitive to minor needle changes, such as 1 mph. If however, you had a digital speedometer, I had one once, a minor change would be harder to detect. Your eye does not have a visual structure such as the speedometer needle to follow, but merely some numbers in motion. Watching a series of numbers change does not give an indication of direction, as does the needle. By that I mean, needle moves left, you are slowing, to the right going faster.

An excellent example of some aircraft instruments that give both types of information  on one gage. The first was a cylinder temperature gage that incorporated both digital and analog data. Very impressive. Also, other data was presented similarly, with both analog and digital info*.

 I would like to offer some caution to those of you who fly an “All Glass Cockpit”. I just reviewed a 2008 NTSB report warning about the loss of electrical power due to malfunctions in the electric distribution system in some airline models **.  Rather than go into details mentioned in the article, I’ll let the reader go there. I would again warn against complacency in the cockpit. Be prepared to take over by using your back up analog instruments when the screens go black. Although, the glass cockpit has reduced the number of general aviation accidents, the fatality rate seems to have increased.

Finally, I am still puzzled by the number of runway and taxiway accidents that occur regularly. Just go to the FAA accident site and read through some of the incidents. They range from hitting a runway or taxiway light to dropping off the end of long runways. On the ramp, there are injuries and damage due to propeller strikes. It all seems related to inattention or being distracted. Are you texting while performing some critical or even routine operation? Although multitasking is often required, it can be our worst enemy. All it takes is a millisecond or two of distraction and wham, disaster. So, stay focused on the job at hand, and plan ahead.

 If there are thoughts or comments about any of this, please share by clicking on Comments.

** NTSB Safety Recommendation A-08-53 through -55 Retrieved on 14 April 2012.
***Wikipedia-See under Glass Cockpit sub paragraph- Safety

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Are You Guaranteed protection From A Collision When ON ATC's Radar...

When flying VFR either with or without a flight plan, are you guaranteed  protection from a collision with ground based objects as towers or hills, when on ATC’s radar screen? No you are not. Unless you are on an IFR flight plan and communicating with an ATC facility, ATC has no responsibility for warning you of danger ahead.  
A recent accident, taken from the FAA accident file offers a clear example of this. An ATP pilot with 22,000 hours of flight time, flying a King Air C-90 was on a repositioning flight from a nearby Pennsylvania airport to Morganton,WV (MGW). The trip was of no more than about 30 miles, tops 15 minutes in a King Air. No flight plan had been filed. The pilot initially climbed to 3100 ft.  Before entering the MGW airspace, the pilot called Clarksburg Approach Control approach control and was given a discrete transponder code.  Approximately 9 miles east of the airport the controller advised the pilot he was “Radar Contact”. At that time the plane was at 3100 ft and began descent to 3000ft. Not soon after the plane struck a communications tower.

Had the pilot filed an IFR flight plan, ATC would almost certainly have warned the pilot of the ground hazard and/or given immediate vectors around it. The other thing seemingly missing from this pilots flight bag was a current VFR map. Had the pilot studied the map before taking off, or even enroute, he would have noted the presence of two towers east of his destination. The highest one had an elevation of 2651 ft with other high ones around and mountains just over 3000 ft in elevation slightly to the north.

Now that we are in the midst of a very hot summer, we should all be prepared for the inevitable thunderstorm somewhere along our route of flight. Reviewing another recent accident, this one in Florida, should cause anyone who thinks about penetrating an area of moderate or severe thunderstorm activity, to think again.

A Pilatus aircraft flown by a private pilot with instrument rating took off midday from Lake Wales enroute Junction City Kansas. He filed for 26000 ft ( must be nice to have a turboprop). Not soon after takeoff not yet at flight level 260, Center advised the pilot of an area of precipitation with moderate, heavy and extreme echoes. The latter two are worthy of note. He was advised to deviate to the right and advise center when clear of the weather etc. Well, reading the description of the ensuing flight, it  sounds as if the pilot got into more than he could handle and ended up spinning, with loss of control, ending up in a pile of wreckage with all dead.

The message here is that even if you have onboard radar*, don’t assume that you can see through all the bad stuff and sort it all out. I don’t think even the big guys with the best radars can penetrate, or would try to bust through a storm that contains extreme echoes (meaning severe turbulence, icing and hail,?tornado)**. This kind of weather is more appropriately handled by a 180 degree turn, and a rescheduled flight, when encountered by a relatively slow non-airliner type plane. The moral: you can’t always continue, but may have to land and reconsider things. Always leave yourself an out!
So, as always, fly safely and well, and be mentally prepared for what may lie ahead.

Some interesting reference articles on the topic of flying with thunderstorms around are:
*On A Mission: Best Practices ON Thunderstorm Avoidance;

**Various blogs about dealing with thunderstorms, Nexrad vs on board radar etc; www.AVWeb .com, Jun3, 2012-AvWeb Insider

PS- Almost all the articles say:Nexrad for strategy,airborne radar for close in work. But all say bewary.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cleared To Land

My recent visit to the Charlotte ATC* (air traffic control) facilities was something I have had on my wish list a long time. It was worth waiting for. I was given a complete tour, including the tower, radar facilities and even the simulation room. My host was Jim Koon, Air Traffic Control Specialist.
We started out on the lower levels, which included approach and departure control facilities. Walking into the dark radar room took a bit of adjustment because it was so dark. But once my eyes adapted to the low light level, I could take in the setting. There were many contollers seated in front of an individual radar display with others closely standing by or supervising.  I was advised that the radar systems had all been upgraded to digital, which explained why the details on the screens were so sharp. Each operator is responsible for a sector (like a piece of pie). I believe this is true for both approach and departure.  Each blip on a screen represents an airplane. The flight number or N number of the plane, its airspeed and altitude are noted under the blip. This allows the controller to keep a watchful eye on all the planes on his/her screen. This can be particularly important in the high density traffic areas, where a misunderstood ATC instruction could lead to a possible accident.   

As an example of this, I’ll relate an incident that I remember when I was inbound on an ILS in low IFR conditions. For some reason, I didn’t begin my descent at the proper time. The radar controller noted my altitude was too high for my location on the approach, so issued me a go around. I had overrun the outer marker, the point where I should have begun my descent. The controller alerted me to my error and saved a possible accident. Several years ago a local businessman’s twin turboprop crashed into a mountain as the pilot failed to initiate an approach at the proper time. They apparently were not communicating with an ATC facility, and so didn’t have anyone watching over them. Bad luck for them.

Well, back to the ATC facility. In the same area where all the radar operators were located, there was a giant map of the United States which displayed all incoming flights to the Charlotte area over the next eight or so hours. Way up in the right hand corner several overseas flights from Europe were posted, and on the left side some from California and Asia. This information is used for planning purposes.

Also downstairs was a simulator room where personnel are trained for the various positions. This was most impressive. All conditions of weather and lighting could be simulated. All the various instrument approaches could be simulated. Also landing and departure emergencies, such as an engine out etc. could be practiced. As a plus they are able to display the simulated views from the cockpit of a plane landing on any runway. This is a wonderful safe and effiecient way to train controllers for any eventuality.

My final visit was to the tower. We rode the elevator partway. Then it was up two flights of narrow stairs, like those found on Navy ships, and we were there. A large spacious area with 360 degree views of the airport and environs. There must have been a dozen or so operators, all with a specific area of responsibility. This of course includes:  handling all arriving and departing aircraft as well as taxiing aircraft and ancillary vehicles. Due to the large expanse of the airport, there are two fire department stations spaced on opposite sides of the airport.

Now that you have an idea what an ATC facility consists of, I am going to offer some advice to pilots as to what are the “extras” that ATC personnel can offer. While at the facility, I discussed at some length, the things that can be offered to a pilot with a problem. For example, let’s say that you have a low fuel indication. If you let the controller know in enough time he/she can offer you vectors to the nearest facility suitable for your plane to land on. Other inflight emergencies as: smoke in the cockpit, control or engine problems can be similarly handled. The key point here, is that the sooner you notify them, the sooner they can start to help. Frequently time is of the essence so don’t wait

Enjoy your flying, and if in doubt give a shout. Fly well and safely.

·         For a complete discussion of ATC, including things like aircraft call signs, various types of communication between aircraft and ATC etc. look at: Wikipedia Air Traffic Control.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

When The Clouds Are Low And I Hear The Planes Flying

When the clouds are low and I hear the planes flying, I want to be there too. Yes, in the clouds, on the gages, with earphones tight on my head, mouthpiece against my lips. Center:" 232 Alpha cleared to…."Sure, just daydreaming now, but I’ve been there. Flying IFR (on the gages or now on the screens), is the ultimate type of flying. Ok, I’m not comparing it to aerobatics, but let’s just say to VFR piddling around, that can be fun but is not very challenging. Once in the clouds the visual world is history and one relies on instruments to stay upright, on course and out of trouble. It is 100% commitment to the dials or gages, as the inner ear will fail us within a minute or less without visual stimuli, resulting in an out of control airplane and almost certain death. Yes, that is part of the thrill of instrument flying, staying out of the hands of the grim reaper.

So how does one start out on an IFR flight? It starts out by obtaining a good weather briefing. This has to cover the time period of the trip, including the destination and alternate in case of bad weather. I can’t stress the importance of considering the weather enough. Once satisfied that the trip is doable, it is time to go out to the plane and do a thorough preflight. In addition to the standard, I always check the fuel in each wing tank visually, gages can lie. After completing the walk around ground check, it is into the cockpit by climbing up on the right wing, and settling into the left seat, the one I have occupied for the last several years. It is a wonderful older twin, a B-55 Baron. Well equipped, with IFR certified avionics, some deice capability and sweet to fly. The Baron, for those who haven’t had the luck to fly in one, handles like a responsive single.

After settling in I look over the instrument panel and the rest of the cockpit. Then before doing anything else I check for my instrument charts (Jepps) supplied by Jeppesen, the chart publisher. Now I’m ready to get things going.  First turn on the master switch and listen for the electrically driven gyros to spool up. Open the throttles, mixture rich and fuel pumps on until flow established. Magnetos , throttles to idle and hit the left starter.  Once the left engine is running smoothly, do the same thing for the right engine. Now turn on the avionics. Tune in ATIS(auto taxi info) and call for IFR clearance. That goes like this:” Raleigh clearance Baron 855Charlie(for C) with foxtrot for clearance”. The reply:” November 855Charlie cleared as filed, expect the Guppy one departure, contact ground control”. No more radio calls as I am running a bit too verbose.

Well, now I know that I am cleared as filed to what ever airport I requested. I contact ground control and advise them I am ready for taxi. I will be called back with taxi instructions. These can be complicated as at Boston Logan airport, and requires strict attention. Then when ready for take off call the tower and say:” Baron 855 Charlie ready for take off”.  By this time I should have my departure chart and enroute charts out and studied. The instuctions come at one quickly, and in busy terminal areas, things don’t get repeated easily. So listen carefully and anticipate the commands.

So here we go:” November 855Charlie clear for take-off, climb to 2000 feet and turn to a heading of o6o”. That’s not quite what I expected but ok, short hand it on my knee pad and off we go. Once in position at the end of the runway, I turn on the transponder and advance the throttles. A quick check of the engine instruments satisfies me things are as expected. At lift off speed, I pull back on the control column and watch the airspeed increase. My left hand finds the landing gear switch, and as I verify a positive rate of climb, I move the gear switch to the up position. The gear is up in seconds, and the plane responds accelerating smoothly to around 120 Kn. Well I am on my way.

Out of 1500 ft. we enter the clouds, initially broken, but becoming solid between 2500 and 11000ft., our final altitude. As we enter the clouds, my attention and focus is on the attitude indicator and compass all included on the HSI or horizontal situation indicator. Yes, this is the old stuff. Instrument gages, not a digital display. Now I turn on the autopilot and let it track the correct radio bearing or heading and set the altitude hold to the elected 11000 ft, and lean back and enjoy the ride. I try to recall the visual experience of flying in or around the clouds, something like bits of cotton wool dancing around and over the wings and windshield, almost spiritual at times.

 So that’s it until we reach the destination area and are handed off to approach control. Before being handed off to approach I listen to ATIS, advising me of weather and runways in use. If I like what I hear, meaning the weather is above minimums, I proceed. Otherwise I consider going to my alternate, which hopefully has better weather.  So, after being handed off to approach I switch over the avionics to the approach phase. The weather in this instance is just above minimums with a 300 foot ceiling and ¾ mile visibility. The type approach for these conditions is an ILS. This has two components: the localizer for the r/l guidance and a glideslope needle  for the vertical. This info can be coupled to the autopilot but I elect to hand fly instead, keeping the needles centered by adjusting the power, vertical trim and heading. If the needles stay centered I should be over the runway threshold in perfect landing position in about 3 ½ minutes after leaving the outer marker. (I haven’t discussed everything here by a long shot.  See this website for more This trip everything has worked out. I successfully was able to track the localizer and glideslope to just above touchdown, and there awaiting me was the runway. One very welcome sight. After touchdown, it is taxi to the ramp and shut everything down.

I hope you enjoyed this short, fairly typical trip in instrument weather. We were lucky not to have to deal with things like turbulence, thunderstorms or ice. But we’ll deal with those on another flight.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

As I Offer Advice To An Older Pilot........

As I offer advice to an older pilot who hasn’t flown seriously for quite some time, I try to choose my words carefully. Thoughts are racing through my head. From, “what , are you crazy at your age?” To  “great  give it a try, you’ll love it.”  Somewhere in between lies the right advice.  My hesitation is in part, due to the fact that I’m talking with a busy professional.  A person with lots of responsibilities, including, being the head of a large family.So, what’s the big deal? The big deal, is that I believe flying takes a certain amount of dedication. A dedication of time, money and enthusiasm. Some of these are hard to share. Time here, means time in the cockpit as well as time taken to study and think about the complexities of flying. My personal belief is that to be a good pilot, one must fly often, perhaps as frequently as once per week. The more frequently one flies, the more familiar the whole thing becomes. Just jumping in the plane after kicking the tires and doing a fast walk around is not enough.  No, after your thorough pre-flight, sit quietly and think about what you are going to do flying wise. Things to concern yourself with include: weather, flight plan if one was filed, taxi instructions if at a larger field etc. In other words, confine your thoughts to this flight and all it involves. Leave everything else behind and get ready to fly. I’ll confess though, that as I flew a lot before quitting a few years ago, I shortened some routines of the pre-flight as I flew my plane daily. But I wouldn’t suggest that the casual flyer, who rents a plane do the same.

In that vein, I will have to admit to having done some things that I was lucky to walk away from. These were done in haste, and before I adopted a more thorough approach to flying. For example, hopping in a small Cessna and starting to taxi only to hear the scrape (luckily) of a still attached tow bar. Now that was early in my flying career, and never repeated. This kind of happening only reinforces how important it is to adopt safe, reproducible routines. For example: in your walk around, not only look at the control surfaces, but move them to insure things are ok. Not only check the oil level but look inside the engine compartment as much as possible, especially in the spring to check for bird’s nests. I won’t belabor this, but you get the idea.

Well, I am getting off my pedestal. If you decide to fly, give it all you’ve got. Fly as often as you can. Pay attention to your instructor and have a good time.

Before I sign off, I'll mention two recent aviation events. The first was another Cirrus crash. This occurred in North Carolina during landing take-off practice maneuvers in clear weather. No cause as of yet. I will await the NTSB report.
The other event, involved two ATP's(airline transport pilots) flying  an airliner, distracted by a cell phone on final approach, resulting in a go around. Yes, they forgot to lower the landing gear. Use their checklist did they?? 
Finally, another FAA "breakthrough". Apparently they have now authorized the use of IPad type devices for displaying approach data and possible enroutes as well. This makes me nervous as I don't fully trust digital devices as an end all be all. They can fail. When and if they do, will you have your paper back ups?

That's it for now. Be happy and fly safely and well.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

It's Nostalgia Time Again

Seeing the wheels, connecting rods and gushing steam, made me reflect not only on the old steam trains, but also on some of the older planes I used to fly. In particular, I thought of the instrument panels, so different from the present, with their round glass dials. As I mused, I wondered about the "feel" of flying on the "gages" when there are none, just digital displays. What do all those data displays mean, or where do they come from anyway?

A quick review of the glass cockpit involves mainly the PFD or primary flight display. This should depict attitude, airspeed, altitude as well as other data such as vertical speed and yaw. That's a lot on one instrument, obviating quite a bit of scanning as was previously required to obtain the same info. The point I am trying to make is that all the data previously was on individual dials and somehow made us aware of its importance by just being there. Yes, therfore one or the other bits of data represented by these dials could be overlooked as the data would not be posted in front of your nose, but might be tucked in an out of the way place. One thing that still worries me is possible screen failure. I know that there are two screens that can have the data switched back and forth. That is some comfort, as are the back-up individual old "round dials".

Finally, it's back to basics again. The recent crash of a Cessna 500 type jet in good VFR weather was just horrifying. The pilot (according to the NTSB), made two approaches, both apparently too high and probably too fast. tried to force the plane down onto the runway with disasterous results. It just can't be done fellow pilots. Whether it is a Cirrus or a 747, if there is enough air speed over the lifting surfaces to provide lift, the plane is going to want to keep flying. Here I am excluding anti-lift devices, not commonly found on smaller type planes. This poor pilot apparently tried to challenge this principle. According to the NTSB report he touched down midfield on the nose wheel, then slammed down the mains losing control of the plane, ending up in a ball of fire, killing all five occupants.

In closing, I urge all to stick to the basics of aerodynamics. Don't be a test pilot unless your name is something like Yaeger.
Remember, keep it safe.

Monday, February 27, 2012

An Article About What Ifs And How They Can Help One Deal With Tough Situations

I thought that I would try something new. Instead of dealing with particular known or actual situations I would try an lead us to anticipate and thereby fend off possible disastrous scenarios.

I’ll start off with an actual flight I had shortly before hanging up the headset for good. My chief co-pilot, my wife and I were returning to the Beaufort, NC airport at night. Although a fairly seasoned flyer at the time, she was still nervous in the right seat. The WHAT IF started with: What if we have to land in a hurry because of an engine problem? A good question, as we were flying at night in an A-36 Bonanza, a single engine plane. I thought for a bit and replied, “Just look at the Garmin GPS and note the airports.” Then I showed her how we could move the cursor to the airport symbol and get an immediate heading and distance. This helped her anxiety by keeping her busy, while accomplishing an important mission, helping keep us safe by planning ahead and thereby minimizing a What If.

Another somewhat more complex situation occurs when the weather is the prime consideration. This What If involves both pilot instrument capabilities and the amount of fuel aboard or range. Here I can relate an experience I had many years ago, before being instrument rated. Flying a Piper Cherokee with three passengers, we left Syracuse (SYR) heading for Boston (BOS). Great tailwind so time enroute a piece of cake. Weather VFR but some question at our ETA in BOS. Checking weather along the route still AOK but the KBOS forecast was getting downgraded to snow showers and some possible IFR. We kept on, passing good VFR alternates with impunity. When about 30 miles out of KBOS approach advises “BOS is IFR what are your intentions?” As I wasn’t IFR qualified I was stuck. Gulp, now what? As I looked at the fuel gages I realized that I was at about ½ full. The alternates we passed inbound to KBOS were now in and out of IFR also. So I turned around and advised approach that we were returning to Syracuse. Great except that now instead of a big tailwind we a big headwind. The long and the short of it: we just made it back to KSYR with about 20 minutes of fuel in the tanks. All alternates on the way back had become IFR.
The moral here is to assume the worst and plan for it!

Another What If I have thought of over the years is this. Suppose you are on a long flight in a single or a twin in unstable weather, ie VFR /moderate IFR that could go to low IFR at any time. Let us say that you are reasonably competent at executing an ILS approach to low minimums(200 ceiling with 1/2 mile viz). As you are talking with approach you find out that the field is closed, weather has gone to 0/0. Also there is no alternate available with in your fuel range. Just when you are starting to sweat, the engine lights start to blink a warning. What are you going to do? The only thing you can, unless you have a parachute, shoot an ILS and hope for the best. Just fly the needles and set up a low sink rate until ground contact is made. It is better to crash on the field, where help is available, then in some parking lot or farm field.

One other scenario. What If there is no ILS available. If you have an IFR certified GPS, fly it to the runway, line up and do a descent as before. The GPS accuracies are supposedly to 3 feet. Better than VOR or ADF and the parking lot. You can practice some of these things in good weather and your confidence will improve.

So you don't get caught with no options, think these hypothetical situations out ahead and plan to use them when needed. Without any plan, panic is sure to set in, with a predictable outcome.

What Ifs may never come to pass, but at least you may have thought things through before they actually occur.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

You May Not Be Able To Prevent Significant Icing From Forming On Your Plane

Even with all the preventative measures in force, you may not be able to prevent significant icing from forming on your plane.

A recent accident in Texas involving a sophisticated turboprop was the result of airframe icing. This plane had pneumatic boots, deicing capability for the props and windshields as well. In spite of that, the heavy mixed icing reported by the pilot brought the plane down. Miraculously, the pilot lived, in spite of having crashed, the plane uncontrollable. Another plane, also recently in Texas, crashed on landing. This was a fancy twin, also with presumed de-icing gear available. The pilot reported having ¼ to ½ inch of ice on the wings (and presumably elsewhere too). He was able to put the plane on the runway, but ran off the end into a fence. I am guessing that he wisely increased his airspeed to account for the negative airfoil effect of the ice, ie stall speed increases significantly due to airfoil changes.

My personnel experience with severe icing came by proxy while resting after a flight at the Burlington, Vt FBO where I worked part time. I was chatting with a Cessna Caravan pilot, who was about to depart on his freight run. The Caravan was a turboprop, large single engine tank of a plane, with "full de-icing". That evening there were two such flights heading out of BTV. Both, I learned later, crashed shortly after take-off with fatal results. Yet, I had flown in to Burlington just a short time before their departures without any icing encountered. It was determined both of these flights had experienced severe icing, the cause of the crashes. Later, Cessna modified the leading edge wing boots so as to extend further back over the cockpit. Unfortunately, it didn't help those two pilots.

So, what’s the problem with having ice on the wings, tail, windshield etc? Mainly two things: the shape of the airfoil is changed and the ice can add significant weight to the plane. “Icing is a cumulative hazard. It reduces aircraft efficiency by increasing weight, reducing lift, decreasing thrust and increasing drag.”* As well, icing can cause instrumentation errors, impair engine performance, cause radio communication problems and more.

What atmospheric conditions are favorable for icing? There must be visible moisture or droplets, and the temperature around the aircraft must be O degrees C or cooler. Under some circumstances however, the OAT may be slightly above freezing and icing still occur. Depending on variations in the above, there are three types of icing that may occur. These are: Clear ice, rime ice and mixed clear and rime. Of the three types, the clear ice may be the hardest to remove by deicing equipment*.

Since I try offer advice what to do if problems are encountered, I will offer this sage bit. Avoidance of ice is the only way to assure a safe outcome. The recent turboprop that crashed after encountering ice (presumed), could have descended to a lower altitude, presumably warmer, and therefore avoided an icing situation. Just because one has all the bells and whistles doesn’t guarantee a good outcome, even if they are all used properly.

One of the ways one can avoid a dangerous weather condition is to listen to the pilot reports on your frequency. They may have been there ahead of you just a few miles in front. Interestingly though, even that is no guarantee of safe passage. There are numerous accounts of several planes flying the same course, separated only by a few miles, each encountering different weather scenarios.

I will offer some advice for those pilots flying a plane with de-icing boots. The latest on how to use the boots is: as soon as any icing is detected on the leading edges of the wings the pneumatic system should be activated. This has replaced old wisdom, which was to wait until a reasonable shell of ice had formed to prevent “bridging” of the ice.

If you want to learn more about the specifics of the type clouds and nitty-gritty of icing consult: Aviation Weather*.

My final advice is to enjoy the ice at the hockey rink, but avoid it all costs when in the air.

*Aviation Weather- For Pilots and Flight Operations Personnel-Revised 1975
DOT, FAA, Flight Standards Service

Another good article:AOPA Safety Advisor, Weather No. 1, Aircraft Icing (Available on the internet)