Friday, 7 April 2017
Acknowledgements: AIR FACTS/John Zimmerman
As a student pilot, sometimes you may be worried about making a mistake: On the radio, breaking some unwritten rule, or upsetting ATC. Whenever possible, we want to say yes, but as much as we like to press the push-to-talk button and calmly proclaim “wilco,” sometimes you simply have to say no. It’s not being a bad pilot; it’s prioritizing safety over convenience. So:
· Say no to a take-off clearance if you’re not ready: “Cessna 12345, cleared for immediate take-off, traffic on 1 mile final.” It happens all the time at busy airports, but this scenario is packed with subtle pressure to start moving – now. Resist the urge to rush. No matter how much you want to help out, you’re not doing your job as pilot in command if you take off before you’re ready.
· Say no to “expedite landing” on final if you can’t safely do it. If there’s a faster aircraft behind you ATC may ask you to fly as fast as you can on final in order to keep the spacing acceptable for him. If you have 500 hours in the airplane and can do it, by all means comply. But if you’re on your first solo cross country, you’re under no obligation to accept this request. You might have to turn off final or do a 360, but that’s better than arriving at the threshold high, fast and unstabilised.
· Say no to “land and hold short” if you’re unsure. You might get issued this instruction at an airport with intersecting runways. If you’re not absolutely certain you can stop short of the crossing runway, and if you haven’t previously studied the chart and briefed the procedure, don’t say yes. The controller may not be happy, but he’ll be a whole lot less happy if you accept but can’t do it.
· Say no if you really don’t have the airport in sight. “Airport is 12 o’clock, 5 miles, report it in sight.” The controller would love for you to call the airport in sight and get rid of you. Some pilots assume that since the GPS shows the position of the airport, they can simply say yes and keep navigating until right on top of the airport. This trick will probably work 90% of the time, but the one time it doesn’t you’ll really wish you were still talking to ATC! If you don’t have the airport in sight, the answer is no.
· Say no to an approach clearance if you’re not stabilized. For instrument pilots, the start of an approach is a critical time: the airplane is descending towards terrain and obstacles without visual reference. If you’re not certain of your position – and if the airplane isn’t configured and slowed down properly – accepting an approach clearance and chasing the needles will not make things better. Ask for a delay vector and go back out to re-intercept the final approach course. Good landings are the result of good approaches, so insist on starting them the right way.
· Say no to a crossing restriction you can’t make. Another concern for IFR pilots, and occasionally VFR pilots, is when ATC asks you to pass a certain waypoint at or below a certain altitude. Often this is a simple clearance to comply with, but sometimes ATC asks for the impossible. If you work out you would need to maintain 2000 ft/min descent, you probably need to let ATC know it’s not possible. This isn’t the end of the world – just be honest and let them come up with a plan B.
· Say no to a more experienced pilot when you’re uncomfortable. Not all pressure comes from ATC; sometimes other pilots are guilty too. Years ago, as a brand new Private Pilot, I was staring intently at the weather maps when a much more experienced pilot, in an effort to be helpful, leaned over my shoulder and said: “it looks worse than it really is – I think you’ll be fine.” I ended up taking off, but I shouldn’t have. I had let the older pilot’s opinion influence me, substituting his personal minimums for mine. Never again. As PiC any decision is your decision, and sometimes that means politely thanking the other pilot and saying no to yourself.
· Say no to pushy passengers if the weather is marginal. Passengers can also offer their opinion, and this is tricky, since we love to show off our piloting skills and “get the job done.” But general aviation flying is supposed to be fun, and if the weather doesn’t look fun it’s your job as PIC to say no. It may be disappointing, but it’s the right call – no matter who the passenger is.
So use your PIC authority wisely and remember, if you’re ever unsure or uncomfortable you have every right to say no.
Wednesday, 5 April 2017
Acknowledgements: GASCO Flight Safety Extra April 2017
Loss of power - full or partial - on climb out generates a “startle effect” whose intensity and length of time depends largely on what expectation the pilot had of such an event. For most of us it is a total surprise and it leads to a pause of three to five seconds before the pilot does anything.
What the pilot does next can vary between an instinctive pulling back on the control column. possibly to keep airborne or possibly as part of common human reaction at times of very extreme stress to adopt the foetal position! The pilot in the incident to which this article refers was also a glider pilot and possibly his glider training in the matter of cable breaks caused him to push forward and assume the gliding attitude.
The fundamental problem occurred in the few seconds left when he failed to determine to keep the aeroplane flying at all costs. He says that he never looked at the airspeed indicator but got out a MAYDAY and looked for the best place to put down.
Hindsight is a marvellous thing and we can all sit in our armchairs and imagine that in those same circumstances we would have done things differently, but we need to remind ourselves that the person complacently sitting in that chair is an entirely different creature from the person suddenly stressed to beyond the limit with only split seconds to react instinctively.
The statistics tell us that in this power loss situation many of us are so taken aback that we forget to do the only thing that is going to save us. Which is to keep the aircraft flying above all else. Instead we search for some ideal landing spot, probably not within actual gliding distance and possibly involving some extreme manoeuvre. We seize upon making radio calls, tightening our straps, turning off electrics and fuel: all desirable actions but worthless if we fail to fly the ‘plane all the way to the ground.
Our best defence against these sorts of consequences is to make it an invariable practice just before take-off to self-brief around what we are going to do if there is loss of power on climb out. Whatever you may decide to do in detail is far less important than the essential importance of preparing your mind for the possibility of power loss. When it happens that will reduce the startle effect and make you far more likely to recognise your essential priority: keep it flying!
A Met after-cast revealed that this was a day of Carb Ice at any time. The Continental engine is particularly prone to carb ice, and the relatively short taxy from the hold to the threshold, about one minute, was sufficient to create ice. The pilot could have taxied with Carb Heat ON or he could have done another run up before take-off with carb heat, but he was not aware of the high risk of carb ice on that apparently unexceptional day. Perhaps the best approach is always to assume a significant risk of carb ice unless current conditions are obviously not prone. Remember that carb ice can be prevalent on a warm day just as much as cold one: the essential factor is the humidity.
Looking back, the pilot in this case (who happily survived the resultant crash) warns us all that the nose down attitude which is right for a practice forced landing with the engine ticking over is not necessarily sufficient for best glide speed with the engine stopped and the propeller generating significant drag.
Only a frequent check on the airspeed will tell you if you if the speed is where it needs to be if you are to survive. The pilot regrets that his aircraft did not have a stall warner. He now recommends that your initial response to EFATO should be to put the control column/yoke well forward and beyond the normal gliding position. He also warns that the mind-set that it can never happen to you is a serious mistake. Airline Cabin Crew start their brief with, “In the unlikely event of an accident ...”, but pilots would do much better to regard a power loss on take-off as being distinctly likely - and prepare themselves accordingly.