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.