Sunday, April 21, 2013

An Ounce Of Prevention.........

Same old, same old, that’s what I seems to keep happening. A twin Beech turboprop takes off and loses power on one engine. Instead of flying the engine out procedure (after gear and flaps are up) the pilot just lets nature take control and crashes. Now really, you only have two options depending on the type plane, and number of engines. Fly the engine out procedure (bank towards the good engine and try to stay above stall by carefully dropping the nose) or retard the remaining good engine, or accept your job as a glider pilot if you are piloting a single and look for a spot to put the plane down. Larger commercial type planes with more power, as all airliners, are  certified to be able to fly on one engine once a minimum airspeed (V1)* has been attained on take-off.

Since I started to write this article an awful thing happened in Boston. My train of thought has been altered as I try to process all that has occurred. One of the things that emerges from the horrendous event, is that we must be more aware of our surroundings. That is not only true in public places, but also in and about our airplanes. When you do your walk around pre-flight, are you aware of all the potential hazards in your future taxi path? Are the tires inflated, and do you have any brake pads remaining? How does the oil look? When you sample your gas, is it free of water and particulates? Some of those possible hazards could have been introduced by a person rather than mother nature. Yes, we must be vigilant especially in these times.

When you are checking the oil level, including whether the oil cap is tight, take a look around. You might just find some things you weren’t expecting to find. Things like a screwdriver, an empty soda can, or worse a leaking oil or fuel line. I did find the first two items in some of the planes I flew. Significance? Maybe it tells you that a mechanic was less than careful. A leaking oil pressure line can definitely ruin your flight, as I can relate.

It happened to me when I was flying my B-55 Baron to Indiana to be sold. Prior to that, I had had an oil line leak that was “repaired”.  Well, as I taxied up to the purchasers FBO at (IND), the oil was pouring out of the left engine’s cowling. Bad timing as it cost me $5000 off the proposed sale price. The only good thing was that the oil didn’t all run out while I was in the air for the three hour flight to Indiana. Maybe if I had checked out the left engine more carefully, in my preflight, I might have found the leaking fitting ahead of time.

Moving to a different area, albeit, still on the tarmac, is the subject of taxiing. Although taxiing can be challenging, especially in a tail dragger, it is a chore that must be learned early on. As a young buck while taxiing in a 172, I remember clipping a friend’s planes wing tip with a 172’s right wing. Embarrassing and easy to do, but not bankrupting. Hitting a pile of debris with your prop on the other hand, can be expensive. Not only does it damage the prop, but also may cause internal engine problems with the crankshaft etc. So, don’t rush it, rather take the time to look and think about your flight plan and check the avionics settings. You can also listen to the aircraft chatter and learn about potential problems, especially at the bigger airports. 

While on the subject of larger airports, it is worth mentioning that it takes paying particular attention to all taxi instructions. In the busy airports, they can come at you very fast and furiously. So, listen up and anticipate. I can remember the Boston controllers talking non-stop at times. So fast in fact, that if you missed your call it was a long time before you could find a break to call up with a “say again for 855C”. If you goof however, don’t feel too badly. Even the pro’s do it. I have read numerous incidents of airliners ending up on the “active” instead of an adjacent taxiway, not someplace you want to be.

Well as the Boston horror seems to be coming to some sort of conclusion, we can start to breathe more easily. Remember that these are different times, so you must  pay more attention to all that’s going around you, both in and outside of your plane.

Take care and fly right-side up.

Comments are appreciated.

*FAA Pilot Guide To Aircraft Safety-Dealing with airliner take-off requirements (V1 speeds, rejected take-offs etc)