Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Have A Happy And Safe 2015, Fly Right......

    Well it’s New Year’s Eve and all goes well, unless you are one of those “pilots” I have been reading about on the FAA accident reporting site. I really do wonder what makes those pilots tick that make it to the internet site. Why don’t you read it for yourself and think about it?

Here are some examples of their doings:
                Gear up landing,
                Damaged nose wheel on landing,
                “Gear collapses upon landing” or oops I’ll push the handle
    down now and HOPE for the best,
                Damaged landing gear on hitting runway or taxiway lights,
                Wing damaged as hit other plane or hangar etc.,
                Crashed on take-off due to engine failure (or oops should
    have done proper pre takeoff run up),
                Gear damaged due to drifting off runway or taxiway,
 And so on, the list almost endless.

Have a Happy and a safe New Year. If you are planning to fly, please stay off the FAA accident reporting sites.

See you in 2015

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Flying An All Digital Glass Cockpit You Had Better Have Some Analog Back Up.........

As it is approaching Christmas, I am going to offer a present early, an abbreviated blog. Do I hear you cheering out there? Well, here goes. This is aimed at you digital types, with all glass cockpits. In case you missed it, all glass.  Do you have any back-up analog instruments? No. Well here is why you need them if you do any IFR flying in real weather conditions.  Let us suppose that you are on an ILS  instrument approach with a visibility of ½ mile and a ceiling of 200 to 300 feet. I’ve been there many times and it not only requires precision, but an alternative option. The option to quit the approach if it is not working out, for whatever reason.  What if at the last few feet of your descent, the digital (glass) system fails? Yes, just goes blank. If you have your analog gauges insight and working, you should be able to institute a missed approach.

Why am I going there? Because in reviewing  some glass cockpit configurations, I fail to see a complete or good partial analog back-up system. At the very least there should be an airspeed indicator, artificial horizon and altimeter. What about compass heading, rate of climb/descent etc? I think it could get pretty hairy quickly, especially if you are not practiced in this kind of situation.

Well that reminds me of a trip I had with my boss, and working associate in the company Piper Pa-34 Seneca.  This was all analog back in the mid 70’s. Nice planes as long as both fans were going and if you weren’t in a hurry. I was flying in the right seat, my boss was chief pilot in the left. We were getting vectored  for an ILS approach to runway 28 or 24 at Cleveland’s Hopkins,not sure which at this time. All at once my associate asks me to take over and fly the approach. I was shocked when he admitted that he hadn’t obtained his IFR ticket yet, something I hadn’t known. As I was legal and up to date, I accepted the offer. There was a problem in that I didn’t have a complete set of gauges in front of me and had to look at his for some data. The thing that I remember was craning my neck and struggling to see the ILS needle. Well, anyhow it turned out OK, with us breaking out at about 350 feet above the ground, with the runway barely in sight. The landing was good and we taxied to the gate and shut down all systems. That night I had an extra brew.

The moral here is that you never know when a problem will occur. The better prepared you are, the better you can handle the unexpected.

Have a Merry Christmas,  a Happy Hanukkah or whatever you celebrate, and a Happy New Year.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What Are Your Chances Of Getting Struck By Lightning?,,,,,,,,,

In chatting with my son the other day, on his return from another across the globe business trip, he related the following. As his huge four engine Airbus A340 was somewhere in the pre-landing phase the left outboard engine was struck by a bolt of lightning. It was accompanied by a loud bang and lots of smoke. The plane shook and shuddered but otherwise seemed ok. The passengers weren’t however, mostly scared out of their wits. After hearing about this, I decided to do some reading on the subject and write about it here. Fortunately my son’s plane landed safely with no obvious damage.

Apparently getting struck by lightning is a relative rarity. I saw one prediction of one strike in 3000 hours of flight. This was most likely for commercial, airline types, not GA (general aviation) pilots. So where is a GA pilot most likely to encounter a bolt of lightning? According to an article in Av Wx Workshops, “about 90 percent of lightning strikes to aircraft are thought to be initiated by the presence of the aircraft itself”. This would imply nearness to a thunderstorm. To make things a bit scarier (and confused), the article continues: “that 40 percent of all discharges involving aircraft occurred in areas where no thunderstorms were reported.” That reminds me of one of my flights over W. Virginia at 10,000ft. We were in the clear in relatively smooth air, when all of a sudden there was a loud bang, the plane shook violently and we dropped 500 feet with the autopilot disconnected. Now they go on to say that most of the induced lightning discharges occur at temperatures of +5C to -10C, with the highest number of strikes right at 0C. Also, most aircraft induced strikes occur between 10,000 and 16,000 feet MSL. As well, a large number of strikes occur within the clouds, and within precipitation and in-cloud turbulence,*

Another article goes on to clarify things a bit more. They state that the probability of a lightning strike in a thunderstorm increases with altitude (as above). Also that during penetration of thunderstorms at low altitudes, lightning strikes were found to occur in areas of moderate turbulence at the edge of and within large downdrafts.**

Just a bit on damage caused by lightning strikes. Direct effects seem to be caused by electric current flowing through the aircraft skin. Areas that are hit seem to experience extreme heating, with resultant burning and melting damage. Indirect effects seem to be aimed at sensitive areas such as avionics, which are damaged by transient electric pulses and strong magnetic fields. Therefore, unless avionics are properly shielded, they are easily damaged by these indirect lightning effects. Another reference source states that “aircraft incorporating lightning and EMI (electromagnetic) protection have had a significantly lower percentage of electrical failures and interference caused by lightning strikes.***

So try and stay away from areas at risk for lightning discharges. This requires weather familiarity, good planning, use of radar when available and luck.

Happy Thanksgiving.

*AV WX Workshops August 24, 2009
** Jack D. Chapdelaine-P-static testing-Electrostaic interference consultant
***Flight Safety Foundation-When Lightning Strikes

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Please Stay On The Runway.......

After reading over this week’s accidents on the daily FAA accident reports, it again impresses me how many of these involved the runway environment. By this I mean simple taxiing , take-off or landing.  

Now I can understand having a landing incident, as this is the most difficult phase of basic flight. But taxiing is another story. Really, how difficult can it be to keep a small plane, especially with a nose wheel, moving in a straight line? Now, I’m not talking about taxiing during a hurricane or tornado, just normal mild to moderate winds. Ok, I’ll give a little on a 20 to 30 knot crosswind, especially in a high wing plane like a C-150. But under usual conditions there shouldn’t be a major challenge. Remember to move the control wheel or stick so as to drop the wing that is encountering a quartering frontal wind. This will help keep the plane from wildly veering into the wind. Also, keep a light pressure on the brakes to help keep the plane straight down the taxi-way. Also the rudder will help keep one straight if applied to offset the turning force of the wind. That means applying some left rudder when the winds are from the right side.

This same technique applies to landing, although it is a bit more complex, so I won’t go any further on that now.

Now I was struck by how many accidents involved landing a plane and failing to keep the plane
on the runway. Several went off into the grass without apparently much damage. But some managed to get mired in mud, while others turned over or bent some structural parts. One managed to strike a building, and two others rammed into fences. That is just poor flying ability and can get rather expensive, or worse involve serious or fatal injury. One in particular must have dampened the pilot’s enthusiasm for piloting, as they ended up in a pond.

Reflecting on some of my experiences brings up two examples of what I’m writing about. Early in my flying career, I was piloting a tail dragger on a cross country trip. When I got to the first airport there was a strong wind on the order of 15 to 20 knots in a direct cross wind.  I lined up on the runway but was dismayed to find it almost impossible to hold the plane in line with the runway. I tried to compensate for the cross wind but was unable to keep the plane in line with the runway. I had to give up after two attempts and head for the next airport.

One other comes to mind. I was flying a Beech B-55 Baron in the New England region and needed to land at a field in Rhode Island. The wind was strong but fortunately right down the runway. After landing without a problem, I noted that our speed dropped much faster than usual. Taxiing was no problem. After shutting things down I tried to open the cabin door which was facing into the wind. I could hardly muster enough force to open the door. Getting out on the wing was scary too. I found out later the wind had been over 50 knots. If that had been a crosswind, I couldn’t have landed there.

So always keep the wind in mind when either taxiing, taking-off or landing. It can either be helpful or a major problem. So learn to deal with it.

Happy Flying and watch out for the Goblins.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Hypoxia. A Condition To Avoid At All Costs.......

Oxygen in aviation
In revisiting the recent crash/disappearance of an almost new TBM900 many questions arise.
Perhaps the most cogent, why was there no  perception of hypoxia/anoxia on the part of the pilot? After reviewing communications between the pilot and ATC, there never was a mention of a loss of cabin pressure, which leads to hypoxia etc.  

An important question to answer is: why the pilot did not acknowledge any of the indications of a high cabin altitude that should have been available on his instrument panel? His actions indirectly confirm that he didn’t consider anoxia an immediate threat. Was all the low cabin oxygen detection equipment working properly?

A normal response by a trained, experienced pilot as he was, would have been: declaration of an emergency and extremely rapid descent to a lower altitude such as 10000 feet. Therefore one might conclude that normal thought processes were compromised. This could have been secondary to some degree of hypoxia. According to Harrison et al, writing in Principles of Internal Medicine: “When hypoxia is general, all parts of the body may suffer some impairment of function, but those parts which are most sensitive to the effects of hypoxia give rise to symptoms which dominate the clinical picture. The changes in the Central Nervous System are especially important, and here the higher centers are most sensitive. Acute hypoxia, therefore, produces impaired judgment, motor incoordination and a clinical picture closely resembling acute alcoholism.”

I remember well  an emergency decent that I  experienced as a passenger riding in the cockpit of an FAA Boeing 727 out of Oklahoma City in 1997. I was riding “up front” as a passenger while doing a summer internship at The Aero-Medical Institute. We were at approximately 30,000 feet, when the Captain announced loss of pressurization. There was a lot of hissing, oxygen masks dropped like flies and we all struggled to place the masks on correctly as rapidly as possible. The pilot advised us all through the intercom:” loss of cabin pressure, put on masks”. The quick to don masks were on the flight crew and me in seconds. That is all the time one has, in reality, before symptoms of hypoxia will appear. The actual time depends to a great deal on the altitude the decompression occurs.

The pilot deployed everything he could in seconds to get us down rapidly. First the throttles retarded. Then flaps, spoilers and gear deployed, essentially simultaneously. And we were headed down at more than 10,000 feet per minute in a continuous series of steep turns. I don’t know the actual time, as I was holding on for dear life. Finally when we reached about 10,000 feet  things slowed down. The loose papers were gathered up and we could start to take off our masks. It was a very valuable lesson for any pilot to experience.  I had been through a simulated decompression in the training area a few days previous to the flight. So I was somewhat prepared, although the physical effects of all the actions of the rapidly descending, corkscrewing airplane are hard to describe, and so much more dramatic than in the simulator.

I had one other altitude adventure in the old days. As a fairly newly licensed pilot, I was headed to Boston from Syracuse in an older Cessna 182. As I was only licensed for VFR flight, I had to plan to avoid the clouds, which were forecast to be broken along the route. By the time I was halfway to Albany, the clouds began to thicken. I had to decide whether to keep on going or keep dropping lower to get under the developing cloud layer, or turn back. I decided to keep going and therefore began to climb to get on top. That climb continued until I was well past Albany and ended up at 15,500 feet. Although I knew about hypoxia, I never had really experienced it. That was going to change on this flight. I noted that my breathing rate had increased, and that I had developed a slight headache. My ability to function seemed ok though. But I knew that I really couldn’t plan on going any higher. I probably had also reached the service ceiling of the bird I was flying anyway. If I had to continue much longer at 15,500 feet I decided that I would have to declare an emergency and do an IFR descent as I had no Oxygen aboard. Fortunately as I reached for the microphone, I noted that the clouds below starting to thin, with glimpses of the ground. I immediately started to descend and was able to land outside Boston at Hanscom Field under VFR conditions. That trip was a major stimulus for my continuing with my IFR training and getting my ticket.

In summary. Hypoxia is a very real insidious hazard that threatens every pilot. At the earliest sign of it, quickly put on your readily available O2 mask if available. If not proceed to an immediate lower altitude if possible and declare an emergency.

Happy, safe clear headed flying.

Reference: See FAR 91.211 Which goes further into anoxia and when supplemental Oxygen is to be used.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Memories From The Cockpit.........

It was a long time ago when I first started to think about flying my own airplane. Ever since I can remember I was looking up into the sky, searching for the source of the “buzzing” sound made by the airplanes engines. Walking with my parents or other adult, I would pull on their arms to try and stop them so I could stop and look. Seventy odd years later, I still have to “stop and look”.

My love affair with aviation, was greatly reinforced by my obtaining various pilot’s licenses and later in life by owning my own planes. I was fortunate also by being able to fly part time professionally, as I have written about in my

Looking back at my writings, I am struck by how much I have tried to pass on. “tidbits” of flight knowledge and experience, in an effort to help newer pilots, (and some older) avoid costly and deadly mistakes. Whenever I read the FAA accident data, I want to shake the offending pilot awake and offer some constructive guidance.

I can’t help but wonder how much the digital age has accelerated these errors and accidents. For example: the replacement of individual data gauges by two large screens, may be part of the problem. The “big” picture may only confuse the less experienced pilot. I still remember well the basic instruments present in the J-3 I flew as a young solo pilot. Only pertinent data was presented. For example: airspeed, engine RPM, some type of turn and bank and altimeter and compass. Not even a radio in the one flew. There wasn’t much to distract the learning pilot. Just the very basic necessary data presented. As a result, a lot of “fly by the seat of your pants” was done. I learned what an uncoordinated turn or a stall felt like, a useful thing for the neophyte to experience for sure.

Well that’s it for now. Looking back in time and using a word processor instead of a control wheel or “stick”. Definitely not as much fun, but quite a bit safer.

Young pilots. Keep on flying. Eyes wide open and your head cool.

Happy flying.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

So We Can All Learn From Our Mistakes........

It seems that all the FAA writes about now are the mishaps pilots make on taxiing, landing and even taking-off. My last few articles have dealt with these adnauseam, so I won’t get into it again now except for one that stands out.This deals with a plane that made a forced landing on Venice Beach.Two people walking on the beach were struck by a plane that had a power failure. It was a tragic situation for sure. The Piper Cherokee was losing power and therefore unable to reach a nearby airport or just stay aloft. The question in my mind: could the pilot have crash landed safely on the beach edge without hitting two innocent people? Without actually being there, or better yet be in the cockpit, that is a very difficult call. Factors such as the planes altitude, attitude, distance from the landing site, view from the cockpit, type plane and lastly pilots experience level, all have to be considered. I will leave it there and be grateful it never happened to me.

I guess it’s time to ‘fess up. As a young pilot flying out of Syracuse (SYR) in a Cessna 172 I had an encounter with a tree at the end of the runway. This was at a very small strip south of SYR, with something like an 1800 foot runway. There were trees at both ends of the runway, so pilot beware! I was on a rather high final, higher than I should have been due to the trees. Also I bet I was faster than 1.3 Vso (too fast). I remember being just past the trees and a bit high and fast (in retrospect). Yup, you guessed it. I tried to force the plane down to land. As I held the nose down (pushing the control wheel as hard as I could) and standing on the brakes, it just kept on rolling. Until meeting up with a small tree just off the runway threshold. It wasn’t too noisy but I did get banged up a bit. Nothing too serious though. There was lots of damage to the prop, some to the structure and engine. Thank goodness for insurance!

There were a few people around and some confusion. I sat by the side of the wreck and wondered what was going to happen next. Pretty soon an older gray haired gentleman appeared and showed me his FAA badge. We chatted for a while, reviewing what had occurred. He was very understanding and pleasant, which was quite a relief for me. He went over some technical things about landings and flying in general. His rather gentle manner was most welcome as you can imagine. As he left, he told me to keep on flying and put the accident behind me. Very good advice which I followed, and never had another accident after that.

So we can all learn from our mistakes, and hopefully not repeat them.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Looking Over The Latest FAA Accident List.......

Looking over the latest (June 30 ) FAA accident list, it is hard to wonder what some pilots are doing while at the controls. How do two pilots of different Cessna 172’s manage to “flip over” while taxiing? Why does the gear of a taxiing Mooney suddenly “collapse”? There are so many accidents like these that I can’t help but wonder who is minding the shop?

These type accidents seem to be in part due to distraction of the pilot from his/her main duty of being completely in charge. That means not being distracted by cell phone usage, talking to passengers or just not paying attention.

Now the fix for all of these dysfunctions might best be classified as getting more disciplined as “PIC” (pilot in charge). Sort of stepping up to the plate and acting as if really in charge and engaged. For the life of me I can’t understand how a pilot taxiing a Cessna 172 manages to “flip over”. Maybe if taxiing during a hurricane or tornado it’s possible, but how else?

Another frequent reported goof is landing with the gear up. I have discussed this before but here goes again. Establishing a reproducible routine is key. Whether flying a single or multi engine, it’s all the same. At some point in the approach to landing, the gear let down process has to be started. In good VFR the downwind leg is a good spot. On an IFR approach the outer marker, or other similar beacon should be used. As the pilot lets the gear down it should be correlated with a verbal phrase such as: gear down and locked (as correlated with the lights). The gear status should be checked at one or two more points, e.g. base leg on VFR approach etc. Again a verbal cognizance should be given as : down and locked.

Enough on that, as I have discussed the gear-up avoidance several other times. I will just venture briefly into the area of errors pilots make on both arrivals and departures. Lately I have been reading about crashes on take-off that baffle me. Unless there is a mechanical problem with the plane, take-ofs should be routine and uneventful. Again having some working private conversation with one’s self may help. For example on take-off, note the point of decision where you are committed to GO and say to yourself: going up, or something along that line. Just something to confirm what is happening. No surprises are welcome here. This philosophy can continue throughout the departure, and continue into the enroute portion of the flight.

The landing phase of flight  can also benefit from a verbal correlation with where one is. In part this may be done as one calls in: downwind for runway 31. Then one also has the gear down routine to follow. This should be carried out until just crossing the threshold of the runway.

Well that should give some of you pilots something to work on. I would be interested in other ideas along these lines.

Fly well and safely and stay away from the fireworks.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Many Of Those "Silly" Accidents That Are Happening To Pilots Could Be Prevented By.....

Lately I have been writing about what silly things seem to be “happening “ to pilots. Particularly, things that seem to be, at least in part, due to inattention by the pilot. You know what I’m talking about. For example, inadvertently straying off the taxiway or runway. Just look at today’s FAA accident list.* How does one “accidentally” leave the runway for the brush or taxi into another plane? Unless there is a definite mechanical cause, inattention or distraction almost has to be involved. Take for example, if one is taxiing and the plane suddenly veers one way or another, a quick response on the brakes and throttle usually should fix things. If not, why not?

I have been thinking back over my flight career trying to get some answers to all of this. It seems to point to this. I never remember having any “toys” available. Not anything but a simple cell phone. When for example taxiing to the active runway for departure, I would have my charts on my lap. These would include a taxiway diagram as well as all necessary departure information. No laptop or other digital thingamabob in sight. (I have to admit to not owning any). This allowed me to concentrate fully on the task at hand: safely handling the plane.

Thinking way back, going into the 1960’s, I remember well, spending many happy hours flying the aero club’s Piper J-3 Cub. This was north of Boston, flying out of Tew-Mac airport. A small 2000 foot, narrow paved runway, with planes parked close by. Flying a low horsepower uncomplicated tail dragger, is an ideal way for a low time pilot to learn about the principles of flight. The plane did not even have an electrical system aboard. Starting was accomplished like this. Tie the tail down. With the mags (magnetos) off pull the prop through a few times. Turn the mags on. Now standing in front of the plane, grab the prop and give it a quick pull. After it starts untie the tail rope and hop into the rear seat if flying alone and get set to taxi for take-off.

Ok, after this prelude, I’ll get to the main point of all this. There are no superfluous instruments on a J-3. Really only: airspeed, altimeter, turn and bank indicator, tachometer and compass, plus some primitive engine gages. Nothing in the above to really distract the beginner pilot from flying the plane. Once behind the controls with the engine running, all there is to do is pay attention to what’s outside, taxi for take-off, and shove the throttle forward when ready to go. From there on “feel” largely takes over. Due to the increased speed and resultant air streaming over the control surfaces, the plane comes “alive”. After a short roll down the runway, the plane almost jumps off the ground and we’re airborne. The fun starts just about right away. A time to think of only one thing: Flying the Plane.

Well, I got off a bit down memory lane, a pleasant ride for sure. But I hope you can appreciate my point about distractions for the pilot. Really there were none on the J-3. Just compare to the latest trainers out there now. In addition to all the basic aerodynamic gages, add: an electrical system, radios, GPS, anti-collision devices, etc. This is plus all the electronics in the pilot’s bag. I won’t even attempt to list those.

So to make my point, I have tried to show how much “stuff” has been added to the basic airplane. Some, if not all are necessary in today’s flight environment. But the pilot must not allow these data sources to distract him/her from the basic task of flying and controlling the airplane.

Fly often and stay straight and level.

*Check FAA accident reporting site. From May8 to May23 there are plenty of examples of the above.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

As There Haven't Been Any Earth Shaking Stories......

There haven’t been any earth shaking stories to discuss so I am going to just deal with the “everyday mundane” issues out there.

Some of what follows will be rather a bit of rehash. Recently as well as in the past I have written about mundane things as gear up landings, taxiing off the runway or crashing for no apparent reason. I don’t mean to be blasé about accidents, people getting hurt, even dying. But, It seems that all I am reading on the FAA Preliminary Accident and Incident Reports is just about all of the above. Just look at the data presented on 4/22/14.
Don’t believe me? Here goes a synopsis from today’s FAA report:
            C-172 lands short in the grass and flips over
            Cirrus SR-20 Landing at Sanford Int’l Apt went off side of runway and through a ditch
C-210 Struck the prop on landing (we’ve discussed that too)
            Pa-18 On landing went off the runway into the trees at smaller county airport
            Champion –on landing went off the runway and gear collapsed
            Pa-24 Gear up landing and struck prop    

I don’t remember ever having trouble keeping the plane on the taxiway or runway. Now in a high wind, especially a cross wind, while piloting a light plane like a Pa-!8 or a Cessna 150, one might get challenged. We’ve discussed gear up landings, and how best to avoid them several times. Still it seems to be one of the main errors occurring every week. Please don’t think I am trying to make light of serious problems that occur, such as icing, engine failure, heavy IFR etc.

So what’s the answer to all these rather senseless and probably avoidable accidents? The principle one is to have had good instruction and to pay attention to what you are doing and Practice, Practice and Practice.

Till next time.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Love Of Flying Requires Paying Attention To Detail....

Well guess what, it’s tax season, the dead line approaching in just two weeks. And you know what? I almost have it all done. At any rate it has stolen some of my attention from flight anomalies to getting the paperwork and money to the tax folks. It would be harder to write this blog from prison than from home.                      

So, back to my love of aviation. There still are a lot of landing gear accidents( LDGA). Everyday someone manages to damage a nose wheel  or forget to lower the gear. If you read the FAA accident reports, it is euphemistically called “gear collapsed”.  How hard is it to move that gear handle to the down position? Not hard at all, but it has to be in the pre landing protocol. Mooney pilots seem to like to forget to push the handle into the down position. Not sure why as I haven’t flown one for a long time. The nose wheel thing still seems to be due to a bad landing attitude (too much pitch down). Maybe some more practice emphasizing the flare would help.

The way to combat the (LDGA) is to plan ahead and follow the checklist meticulously. Use some pneumonic  A cute one is GUMPS. This stands for gas, undercarriage, mixture, pumps, switches.
You get the idea. Anything that works for you-the PILOT. But you must use it religiously. I remember always verifying the gear being down by saying “three in the green” on base, final and just before touching down.

 One last area I want to briefly discuss is the instrument  approach . Reading over the stats of when accidents occur, the approach phase stands out. In the approach phase I include everything between en route and landing. The five phases of flight are: take off, initial climb, en route, approach and landing. My goal is to alert the budding IFR pilot and remind those farther along about hazards to avoid, as well as to offer some advice how to stay ahead of the game.

I was going to take us on a simulated IFR flight into a major airport such as Chicago Midway. But as I find myself short of time, I will only touch on the important points , and plan to go into more detail at a later time. In a nutshell, it is necessary to really study the approach plate in great detail. Entry points, course headings and altitudes in particular are very key. One can’t just rely on the digital tools to do it all for the pilot. You must be prepared for all the eventualities such as holding, go arounds and missed approaches. Alternate airports also have to be chosen in advance. This latter point was discussed in an earlier Blog.

That’s it for now. The IRS is calling

Fly well and stay safe.

Friday, March 7, 2014

This is a short follow up to the article I wrote about the crash of a Bonanza in Telluride.

After reading more about the crash on the NTSB website I found this out.The weather was hardly condusive  to or safe for VFR type flight. There was a cloud cover up there and the area is surrounded by 14000 foot mountains. There was 1.5 miles visibility with broken clouds at 1000 feet and overcast at 1400 ft.

So all I want to know is this. With no IFR plan filed and a very degraded performance capability, where are you going to go? Not the formula for a successful trip.

Take care and always consider all the factors and your options. Staying on the ground is an option one had better not forget.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Recent Crash Of A Debonair In The Mountains Around Telluride......

CRASH SITE – Rescuers are calling of the recovery mission for the Beechcraft Bonanza that crashed just west of Telluride Airport Sunday, Feb. 17, shortly after its 11:20 a.m. takeoff, “Due to snowpack and warming conditions crews at the crash site.” (Photo courtesy San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters)My latest blog failed to discuss one of the worst small plane accidents that recently occurred. On February 16 at 1130 hours a 1960 Beech Debonair N400DJ took off from Telluride (KTEX) at around 1130 hours. Weather was light snow with visibility 1 mile, the average temp about 38F.

The reason I’m writing about this sad event is that there are some important factors to discuss, such as the negative effects of altitude on aircraft performance. There were no survivors in this crash, all three experienced aviators died at the scene.

The main effect of altitude is the decrease in air density as the altitude increases. The principle effect on the typical internal combustion engine is to decrease engine power output with increasing altitude. ( Reference from Also the true airspeed of a stall increases at the rate of 2%/1000 feet. The indicated stall speed however remains unchanged. Very importantly, the rate of climb for a given airspeed decreases with altitude. This is what concerned me about this crash. The question being: could N400DJ climb fast enough to get around or over the surrounding terrain?

We may never know what brought these intrepid aviators down. I await the official NTSB report. I would have to wonder about engine performance and possible problems in that area.

In doing my reading, I also learned something about turboprops and jets and their problems with altitude. Apparently turboprops run into problems because of propeller efficiency and some jet types with their wing aerodynamics.

Before I sign off, I’ll tell you about a trip I made as a young and budding pilot in a Cessna 172 between Syracuse, NY (SYR) and Boston, MA (BOS). There were three fellow med students and I trying to go for a weekend break. Weather forecast so-so, VFR with clouds and minimal precip enroute. Temperatures were above freezing. Shortly after leaving SYR however, clouds started to appear. Scattered and low at first but as we kept going the cloud cover increased. As I was only VFR qualified, although I had some IFR training, I climbed above the clouds until I couldn’t get any higher. This was about 15,500 feet with no Oxygen aboard. We must have been in good shape as none of us passed out. Ouch! The airplane performance notably kept getting worse as we climbed higher. It felt light and a bit unstable. (Maybe some of that was due to light hypoxia on my part.) Finally when we got well past Albany (ALB) the clouds began to lessen. There were breaks that allowed us to see the ground, and as we passed Worcester, we could see Boston in the distance. All I can say is that we made it, and were damn lucky and awfully glad to put our feet on the ground when we landed.

So be aware of the limitations that may impact on your plane at higher altitudes. Check your flight manuals for performance data that applies.

Happy flying fellow pilots. May you fly high, fast and upright.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

As February Draws To A Close And March Beckons.....

Picture of The image of airplane on the snow-covered airport  
As February draws to a close and March beckons, I realize that it is time to publish another article for the blog. Nothing really has happened to stimulate a dramatic response from yours truly, so I’ll reflect on some rather mundane recent happenings as listed on the FAA accident reporting site.

How about the oft-mentioned gear-up landing? In this last week, there were five such incidents. They involved various types, including a sophisticated (and very expensive) Pilatus PC-12, two Pipers, a Cessna 172 a Mooney M20 and a Beech 35. That comprises quite a cross section of pilot skills (one wonders sometimes??).
The next series of accidents involved the landing or taxiing phases, some with landing gear involvement as well. For example: a Cessna170 landed and veered off the runway, two Cessna 172’s landed and struck snowbanks, one also damaging the landing gear; a Pa-46 (expensive) struck a snowbank that caused the nose wheel to collapse. Just three more. A Commander 114 slid off the runway after landing, another Bonanza had a “gear collapse” (usually a late activation of the gear handle) and finally a Cessna 421 clipped a truck with a wing tip while taxiing. These are all worth mentioning just to make the point that you’ve got to pay attention to what you are doing, especially during the landing phase of flight. Winter flying adds another layer of potential problems that must be anticipated and dealt with as they occur. An example follows.

Thinking about winter flying challenges reminds me of a winter about ten years ago here in Charlotte, NC. A week earlier I had flown in to Monroe airport (KEQY) in my Cessna 340 (N340JC), a pressurized, fully deiced twin. As Friday came and it was time to return to eastern North Carolina, the weather turned bad. There had been a cold front passage with some slushy snow and ice which for sure was going to be coating N340JC. The problem was that I couldn’t get into the hangar when I arrived as it was full, so had to park out in the open on the ramp. As a result the plane was going to be covered with a layer of frozen water/snow. Sure enough, when my future wife and I arrived at the FBO, the plane was coated from nose to tail with a white mix. We set about banging, scraping and cursing (non-productive). Finally after an hour or so the plane looked like it could fly. The control surfaces were clear, most of the ice/snow was off of the wings, tail with only a bit left on the top of the fuselage. I determined it safe to fly (if appropriate caution taken). As there was a very thin coating of ice on some of the wing I would have to use extra speed before lifting off. This would act as a safety factor to allow for a higher than normal stall speed. After a quick goodbye kiss I hopped in and started things going. As I taxied towards the departure end of the runway, I watched for snow collections or icy spots. None were seen, so far so good. The run-up went perfectly.  Before advancing the throttles I decided to add (empirically) 10 to 15 knots to normal take-off speed (usually 90 to 95 knots). This would be 100 to 105 knots. (Stall speed was 71 knots.)

As I advanced the throttles smoothly, everything seemed fine.  The engine acceleration was normal with the plane rapidly moving to 100 Knots. As I pulled back on the yoke, everything felt ok so I continued with the take-off. I noted that the thin layer of ice seen over some of the wing previously, rapidly disappeared. The remainder of the flight was uneventful, the weather excellent VFR.

The moral of the story: plan ahead particularly if things are atypical e.g. ice and snow. Have a plan and stick to it as long as it is working. In your plan include options for what to do if things don’t work out (plane feels mushy or sluggish). In the above case I would have terminated the take-off and taxied back to the ramp and pursued additional de-icing or considered renting a car and driven to my destination.

In summary: Don’t make dangerous unproven assumptions. Deal with the situation at hand as best you can. Always try and leave yourself an out.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Welcome To 2014, The Year To Fly Better

Welcome to 2014. We all made it to another year. So what’s new? You know what they say: ”Nothing New Under The Sun”. Well that may be true in general, but here is one specific that may be new to some of you younger pilots: Don’t Land On The Nosewheel. In a very recent listing on the FAA preliminary accident reports, there were THREE incidents of planes doing just that. They were a Cessna 310, a Bellanca/1419 and a Diamond/DA20. Other recent similar fiascos were: a Pa24 and a Lear Jet 24 (ouch). Another variety of this landing error was a prop strike in a Cessna 172. And don’t forget the biggie: the Southwest 737 at LaGuardia (LAG). This latter incident was rather horrific injuring passengers and causing major destruction of the front of the jet. I read that this plane was traveling at 133 knots with a downward pitch angle of 3 degrees as it hit the tarmac. That’s a lot of kinetic energy to dissipate in a few feet. The pilot flying must have had to force the plane down as it probably still wanted to fly.

I won’t attempt to write a treatise on how to land properly, but will just mention a few basics. The whole idea is to touch down on the main gear at the point when the plane loses its lift. This is somewhere around the Vso, stall speed with flaps and gear down. I don’t want to trivialize the landing process. It is probably the hardest thing for a new pilot to learn. It is the culmination  of a proper approach and the attainment of a proper landing attitude right before touchdown. If one really wants to learn how to land one should fly a tail dragger like Piper J-3. This most basic of planes won’t let you get away with nonsense. If you don’t do it right it will bite you.

In keeping with landing at the approach end of the runway, literally on the numbers, I will bore you with a bit of reminiscence.  As I was getting used to flying a new model of twin ( I had gone from a Beech Baron to a Cessna 340), I decided to practice some take offs and landings. The key thing to making a good landing is to approach the runway properly. That means proper speed, approach angle and altitude. The latter is key as you really can’t force a plane down if too high or too fast. An important part of the approach to land is to pick a spot where you will plant the main gear. I chose the numbers at the approach end of the runway. This takes some planning and coordination, and is excellent practice. Things that can really challenge one are cross winds and gusty winds. Anyhow, after about half a dozen landings and take offs, I began to feel much more confident about my flying the 340. Next I want to look at how one manages to land at the wrong airport.

What causes me concern are the two recent landings at the wrong airport, by supposedly very competent professional ATP’s. I still can’t fully understand how one lands at the wrong airport in a plane outfitted with all the latest electronic gadgets. On one of the large screens or monitors in front of the pilots there certainly has to be a map with all the pertinent details of the area airports. In the days I flew the A-36 with a Garmin GPS, there was a small screen with more than enough data to know exactly where everything is, including the AIRPORT of destination. To refresh my memory, I just looked at a demo of the Garmin 430. It showed how one gets vectored to the airport and to fly the ILS. The moving map display clearly shows the pilot where to go, and if coupled to the autopilot, will do it for you.*

So fellow pilots and onlookers. No excuse for landing at the wrong airport, none at all.
Have a safe and fun 2014.

*Google: Flying the Garmin 430 GPS and surf around a bit.