Friday, 16 November 2018


Acknowledgements: Thomas P. Turner (Mastery Flight Training, Inc./Flight Instructor Hall of Fame inductee)

(Ed. Note: Thomas uses another actual occurrence to illustrate the fact that in many aviation situations the same things can apply regardless of aircraft type)

“A report released by the U.S. Air Force points to pilot error as the primary cause of a Hercules crash that killed all nine servicemembers onboard ... According to the report, the pilots and crew failed to respond appropriately when one of the aircraft’s four engines lost power on the take-off roll.

In spite of the power loss, the aircraft was able to make it into the air. Almost immediately after take-off, the problem was identified, and the pilot made the decision to return to the airport. 

The investigation concluded that the aircraft was still flyable, but a series of procedural and aircraft handling failures, compounded by confusion and uncertainty in the cockpit, led the pilot to turn toward the inoperative engine at a low airspeed and higher-than-recommended bank angle. This was followed by a hard left rudder input "which resulted in a subsequent skid below three-engine minimum controllable airspeed, a left-wing stall, and the aircraft’s departure from controlled flight.

The reportlists several factors that contributed to the crash, including:
·       the crew’s failure to adequately prepare for emergencies 
·       failure to reject the take-off
·       improperly executed after take-off and engine shutdown checklists and procedures
·       failure of the maintenance crew to properly diagnose and repair the engine.

Often, a system failure or other emergency 
is only the set-up for an eventual crash. Discipline, adherence to procedures, and systems knowledge, backed up with emergency procedures and checklists, will determine the outcome when something goes terribly wrong.

We tend to think of inflight emergencies as 
isolated events; individual problems to be identified and solved. This is especially true for the vast majority of general aviation pilots who receive all their instruction in actual aircraft - where it is difficult and at times even impossible to accurately and/or safely present emergency scenarios, because doing so is just too risky in actual flight. Typical practice scenarios might be:
·      Lose an engine? 
·               Establish Best Glide or “blue line” speed, as appropriate, 
·              Identify where you will go, maybe glide or manoeuvre in that condition for a bit, then power up and recover. 
·      Electrical fire in flight? 
·              Run through the checklist (or “talk your way through the procedure”, because you don’t want to actually turn off electrical power), 
·              then call it good and move on to the next task. 

Instead, we need to think about each abnormal or emergency condition as 
the first item in a series of actions and decisions that end with the airplane safely on the ground. Instead of dealing with a simulated problem and then moving on to the next syllabus item, think about everything you’d need to do after noting the new status, through and including getting your passengers and yourself out of the airplane on the ground.

I’m working with an Instrument Instructor candidate who in flight today used a phrase I’ve repeated many times before: “
What are you doing now? What happens next? What happens after that? That line of questions is often used to prepare for upcoming actions while proceeding along an instrument approach or missed approach course. Mishap history shows, however, that we should apply the same thinking to teaching, practicing and actually flying abnormal and emergency procedures. 

For example, that electrical fire might proceed something like this:
  • Electrical smoke or fire condition identified.
  • Emergency procedure: turn off alternator/generator and battery
  • Panel goes dark. Some flight instruments rendered inoperative. Autopilot, if engaged, turns off. Communication and navigation go away.
  • Instantaneous transition from autopilot-coupled, GPS-guided flight to hand-flown, partial panel/lost comm. flight in a dark cockpit … while still dealing with electrical smoke or fire!
  • Continue with the Electrical Fire checklist while hand-flying partial panel. Ventilate the cabin.
  • Possible need to enter an Emergency Descent if the fire does not go out. Probable off-airport landing (possibly out of low clouds), or a lost-comm. arrival to a runway. 
  • If the fire goes out, turn everything off (still hand-flying partial panel), then turn on essential items and ensure nothing you restore begins to smoke or burn again.
  • Re-acquire situational awareness and communication. Select a suitable nearby airport. Acquire information and brief for approach and landing. Reduced-capability descent and approach (possibly in IMC). 
  • What if the runway environment is not visible at minimums? Do you miss the approach? Do you continue anyway, making a landing (or controlled crash) on or somewhere near the runway? 
  • After landing and coming to a stop, evacuate the aircraft.

I’m something of an old-school type where the current philosophy of Scenario-Based Training (SBT) is concerned. I wholeheartedly agree that instructors should incorporate realistic scenarios into training. Where I differ from the modern mainstream is that I think we need to hone task-based skills first, and then add scenarios to make it real.

Concert pianistslearn the basics, then apply that learning to advance situations. And the good ones 
keep practicing the basics throughout their entire career. Similarlypilots need to do the same thing: master the basics, then apply them to specific situations. Done well, the pilot can then correlate what he/she has learned and practiced to an unusual situation that presents itself in flight. Every decade or so we find regulators unveiling the latest “back to basics” program …  because the basics are that important.

Where I don’t see it happening much is in scenario-based abnormal and emergency procedures training ... especially if we train exclusively in actual aircraft. We need to continue to practice and improve on our 
emergency skills preparedness.... When you practice emergencies or study emergency checklists, approach it like that instructor candidate: ask yourself not only what you’ll do now, but also what you’ll do next, and what you’ll do after that, all the way to exiting or evacuating the aircraft on the ground”.


Thursday, 8 November 2018


Acknowledgements: AIR FACTS (David Yonker)

(Ed.Note: Learning from one’s own actual experiences and those of others is a fine adjunct to knowledge of the theory, and although the following might never happen to you in exactly the same way, something like it perhaps could ...... so thanks David!)

“It was a sweet autumn VFR day, 10 mph breeze. I had just finished my commercial ticket so I was current and feeling proficient. I was number 15 to land at Arapahoe, Colorado. I remember thinking the folks in the ATC tower were earning their pay-checks today and this was no time for any extra words or simple questions on the radio.

By the time it was my turn to land, I had the cadence of the tower figured out. He was talking 80 mph with gusts of 100+ mph, and he had his hands full. My commercial flight instructor once told me something that always stuck with me: “The tower provides separation on the ground not in the air”. I never really believed that completely until this day some 25 years ago.

While in the pattern, I noticed a break up in my radio transmission, but never thought much about it until I was safely on the ground. Every time the tower called my tail number, my radio would cut out, but the tower never commented so I assumed they were hearing me just fine. They never once asked for a radio check as the controller had little time to even suck in air. If there was a problem I could check it out later. I had no idea I was being walked on at the time – it just never entered my mind.

My tail numbers ended in 12TC, and I had no idea there was another plane in the pattern with the same TC in his call letters. On final, I understood I was cleared to land. I was checking my gauges, airspeed, fuel, and last-minute normal stuff.

.... As my eyes scanned back to my runway (17R), I saw a shadow of two planes flying together: one was a high wing (on the bottom) and the other was me – a low wing on top. We were between 250 and 350 feet off the ground.

....  I went to full power and called tower to abort the landing, without ever seeing the other plane, and banking to the right so I could see the plane below me. We were only 30 to 50 feet apart. Knowing he could not see me yet, I wanted to see him, and be ready for any reaction he may take.

Now the tower was at his peak speed and so was I. He did take the time to inform me that I could do whatever I needed to do to stay safe, but if I was comfortable doing a tight 360, he could move me to number two to land. Otherwise I was back to the end of the line .... 

I requested a right 360, 60-degree bank, and I was then number two to land at 400 feet off the ground with full power. As I completed my 360 and tried to bleed off airspeed, the airplane that was number one to land was just touching down. I was going to have to land a little long (again no problem) until number one missed the first and second taxiway exits. Tower informed me that I was still number two to land, but not cleared to land, as I approached the end of the runway 100 feet off the ground and dropping fast.

Tower informed number one he needed to make the next taxiway exit or I’d be forced to go around. I watched him slow to almost a complete stop before making the turn. I was just past the numbers, ready to go full power again as the Tower calls, “Tango Charlie cleared to land or go around your choice.” As I was already near ground effect, I chose to flare and land. Tower called back: “Can you make the next taxiway exit? Number two is on a very short final.”

“Affirmative” was the answer, and I was happy to be on the ground and to have his trust in my flying .... My instructor’s comment, and my commercial training paid off that day to make my story a non-event, just a fun story with an expected ending. But you could add a lot of “what if’s” to this or any other landing. I hope my story is helpful to someone, too”.


Thursday, 25 October 2018


Acknowledgements:  Thomas P. Turner (Mastery Flight Training, Inc. & Flight Instructor Hall of Fame inductee)

“Freeway motorists captured video of the last seconds of a Piper’s landing on a highway, when the engine quit during an instructional flight near San Diego. The instructor, who reportedly took over the controls “when it was obvious the airplane was not going to make it” to Gillespie Field airport, did a great job of avoiding vehicles, overhead power lines and other obstacles. Motorists were helpful in getting out of the way as well.

As such cases often do, this event caused widespread internet discussion of whether or not to land on a road in the event of single-engine engine failure, or if other options are safer. I submit that, unlike in rural areas with open fields, in the case of major metropolitan areas highways may indeed be the best option.

We talk about the added risk of flight over mountains, over water, and sometimes even over large forests. That discussion almost never includes the quite similar additional hazard of flight over densely populated areas .... If your engine quit over this terrain where would you go? Do you include the lack of emergency landing sites in your risk management decision?

Considerthe area near where the Piper went down. There are more emergency landing areas near KSEE than there are in a forest, but only if you consider the highways — far from optimal, but in this case the only real options.

Do you think about the lack of landing sites when planning a flight over densely populated areas? How different is the risk flying over San Diego, or Los Angeles, Chicago or New York, or even over Kansas City or Wichita, than it is flying over the great forests of the Northeast or the upper Midwest?

Just as flight over mountains, open water, or dense forests should prompt consideration of the few emergency landing sites, and perhaps re-routing if possible to remain within gliding range of those few sites available, so too should you think about the lack of options when flying over densely populated areas, and select an altitude and route that keeps you within gliding range of emergency landing options whenever possible.

My point? There is rarely one correct response to an incomplete set of facts. Most of the time I’d say landing on a busy road is not the best option. But seeing the lack of alternatives as the instructor and student would have seen them, I laud them for skilfully carrying out what was probably the only option available to them when the engine quit (whether or not they could have detected engine issues sooner or prevented it altogether will have to wait for the NTSB investigation).

This reinforces how important it is for you to get as much information as possible, and continually evaluate your options before you need to implement your decisions. VFR or IFR, long cross-country or trip around the pattern, take the hazards into account before you decide what’s right for you on that particular flight.

Then, practice similar scenarios. If you ever see a situation where you might have to land on a road, remain current on making short-field obstacle approaches and landings (do so even if you don’t think you’ll ever have to land on a road). 

Hazard management and risk tolerance are very personal things. Whatever you choose to accept, do so because you have the skills and knowledge to do so safely and within the bounds of regulation. Don’t choose to do something very risky out of impatience, or because you failed to evaluate the big picture … or just because someone else on-line said it was a good idea!

Finally, some Pithy Words for Pilots sent (some time ago) by reader Chris Larson:
  • Airspeed, altitude, and awareness. Got to have at least two out of three!
  • Slow & low's a no-no. (re: approaches/final glide)
  • When all else fails, feet pick up the wings. (re: stalls/spins)
  • Altitude = options.
  • Only birds land butt-first!
  • What goes up must come down. Where and how is flexible... unless you procrastinate!
  • Believe the problem first. Ask why later.
  • If it's bothering you, fix it before flying it.
  • No one regrets keeping up to scratch”.


Thursday, 18 October 2018


Acknowledgements: AIR FACTS (John Zimmerman)

(Ed. Note: The following is condensed from an article by John, which can be read in full on the Sporty’s AIR FACTS site. Thankyou John!)

“You’ve probably said it to a nervous passenger: “Don’t worry, airplane engines almost never quit” .... This is mostly true for turbine engines, but it’s far less true for piston engines.


According to the NTSB and FAA, there are somewhere between 150 and 200 accidents per year that are caused by power loss. Roughly a quarter of these are fatal, which makes this the second leading cause of fatal accidents. Such events seem to be holding steady, even though overall accidents have declined somewhat in recent years. Data from AOPA paints a similar picture. An interesting study from the Australian Transportation Safety Board (which does some first-rate safety research), offers more supporting evidence: There were 322 engine failures or malfunctions between 2009 and 2014. 

It’s worth pointing out that all these statistics almost certainly under-count the actual number of engine failures, since they only appear in these reports the result is an accident. 


The good news is that “System Malfunction (Powerplant)” hides an awful lot of important details. That NTSB phrase merely defines the event, not the root cause. And by far the most common reason piston engines quit is because they don’t receive fuel, either due to fuel starvation (the airplane has fuel but it doesn’t make it to the engine) or fuel exhaustion (the airplane truly ran out of it). These two causes account for over one-third of engine failure accidents, but they are completely under the control of the pilot.

Pilots will probably always find ways to run out of fuel, but it bears repeating that a few good habits can dramatically reduce your chances of such an engine failure. 
·      Having a hard one-hour minimum is a great place to start – under no circumstances can you still be flying with less than one hour of fuel in the tanks. 
·      Next, spend some time understanding the fuel system so you can always get that fuel to the engine, especially in twins and older airplanes with complicated fuel systems. 
·      Take a little time away from practicing a rare emergency and instead discuss different fuel scenarios that might pop up. 
·      Finally, always know how much fuel was in the tanks at engine start and know your real-world fuel burn rate. Depending on those, and not as much on the gauges, will lead to more realistic decision-making.


The list of causes includes:
·      Pilot mistakes, generally preventable
·      Fuel contamination. It does happen and it can have serious consequences. Again, this is almost totally preventable, by performing a thorough pre-flight every time and staying with the airplane whenever it’s fuelled to verify you get the right type.
·      Next comes carburettor icing, which is either impossible (fuel injected engines) or preventable (by using the carb heat). The penalty for pulling that knob is fairly small in most airplanes, so when in doubt you should use it – even if the conditions seem inhospitable for icing. A carburettor temperature gauge is a good idea too, especially for some Continental models.
·      By the time you get to real mechanical failures such as a failed magneto or a broken connecting rod, the numbers are fairly small – less than 20% of all powerplant problems. Some of these are simply bad luck, but a decent number were due to faulty maintenance, typically soon after major repair work or overhaul. This argues for high quality maintenance, but it also supports Mike Busch’s theory of Reliability Centred Maintenance, where overhauls are completed on-condition, not based on an arbitrary time limit.


First, the easy stuff: Develop good habits regarding fuel management and maintain the discipline to follow them every time: 
·      Sample fuel before every flight
·      Buy from reputable FBOs 
·      Make sure your fuel caps seal tightly
·      Use carb heat (if applicable) on every flight to prevent icing, not just when the engine starts to run rough.

Beyond those everyday basics: 
·      Seek out high quality maintenance, but perhaps only when it’s really needed. The right balance will keep the engine under close supervision, with regular oil analysis and borescopes, but avoid added risk from doing invasive part replacement too often. 
·      When maintenance is performed, pilots should be sceptical on the first flight after overhaul or parts replacement. In other words, don’t make that first trip a hard IFR trip over the mountains.

Of course some traditional advice also helps a lot: 
·      Fly the airplane regularly
·      Avoid cold starts 
·      Operate the engine conservatively (especially with respect to CHT) 

The biggest payoff from these habits is in longevity, especially when it comes to preventing corrosion, but there is certainly some improvement in reliability to be had as well.

Following these rules can reduce your chances of an engine failure by over 75%, which should make you feel a lot more comfortable on your next flight over remote terrain. But that still means the fan out front can stop turning. In that situation, all you have to fall back on is good training and realistic planning

Based on the numbers above, practising engine failure scenarios as a part of your regular training is time well spent, and continuously thinking about forced landing sites in flight doesn’t hurt either. 

Engines can and do fail, but a little preparation and a little paranoia should keep you from adding to those statistics”.