A Safety Journal for General Aviation
by Max Trescott, Master CFI & FAA Aviation Safety Counselor
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During the past month, I enjoy a rite of passage for both my daughter and me. We spent 8 days on the road together looking at potential colleges first in southern California, and then in Oregon and Washington. Given the tight schedule and low cost of tickets booked long in advance, we flew commercially. Although we formally toured 9 colleges and visited her sister at a 10th college, we still found time to fit in some extracurricular aviation activities.
The night we arrived in Portland, we spent several hours combing the shelves of Powell's Bookstore, which should be on the "A list" for any book lover to visit. I picked up a number of both new and used books from the aviation section--so many in fact, that I had them shipped home. I'll be talking about several of them over the next few months, but will spend some time this month highlighting data from The Killing Zone, which I highly recommend to everyone interested in General Aviation safety and accident statistics.
By re-scheduling our last college visit in Seattle to a later time, we were able to squeeze in a tour of the largest building in the world--the Boeing factory in Everett, Washington. Hard to believe, but each door on the building was the size of a football field, and ALL of Disneyland would fit inside with 12 acres left over. I'd love to share some pictures with you, but unfortunately cameras and electronic devices are not allowed on the tour. Suffice it to say the tour is truly excellent, and you should reserve a ticket for the tour anytime you're able to get to the Seattle area.
Unfortunately, this is one tour that doesn't give out free samples! However, in the Boeing gift shop, I did come away with a Boeing shirt, which I'll probably be wearing while instructing this summer, and looked at some LED flashlights, which we'll cover elsewhere in this newsletter.
I have a couple of upcoming speaking engagements this month. On March 3, I'll be presenting to EAA Chapter 62 at the RHV airport, talking about accidents in the Bay area. I'll try to re-cut the Bay Area accident data to focus more on homebuilt accidents for that gig. And on March 22 at 7PM, I'll be repeating my Wings Seminar on Bay Area Accident Analysis at the RHV airport. If you'd like to attend, you must register in advance by sending me an email. These are always fun, interactive learning sessions where we all learn more together--come attend if you can.
I hope that you find this newsletter informative and forward it to your flying friends. Submissions and feedback are always welcome! You can click here to subscribe or email Feedback on Newsletter.
Max Trescott, Master CFI
Accident Rate Down
AOPA announced on their website that the total number of GA accidents in 2004 declined 8.4 percent compared to 2003, and that the number of fatal accidents dropped 11.4 percent. The numbers also improved for instructional flying, which already was one of the safest types of flying. Total instructional accidents were down 11.7 percent and fatal instructional accidents, of which there were only 17, were down 50 percent.
Incidentally, you may be interested in knowing that the accident rate in our local FAA district, the San Jose FSDO, continues to fall. The district, which extends from the San Jose, CA south to just below Santa Maria, has not had a fatal accident in over 18 months! Over the last 10 years, the moving average of fatal accidents in the district has been about 5 per year, dropping to 2 in 2002, and 3 in 2003. Please help this great trend to continue by always taking a thoughtful approach to the risks that you face on each flight.
San Francisco Bay Area
Night and VFR into IMC Accidents
lf you've attended one of my Wings Safety Seminars, you know that Night fatal accidents are twice as likely in the S.F. Bay area versus the rest of the country, and VFR into IMC accidents are up to 6 times as likely. You also know that VFR into IMC accidents are the deadly killer--nearly 90% of them are fatal.
The good news is that days are getting longer and we're moving out of that time of year that has the most night accidents. The bad news is that in the summer, you're more likely to have an VFR into IMC accident in the daytime! Here are the number of fatal accidents from 1993-2000:
|Time Period||Fatal Night accidents||VFR into IMC-daytime||VFR into IMC-night|
|Winter (Oct - March)||23||5||9|
|Summer (April - Sept)||7||8||2|
As we move into the summer months, be cautious of the clouds and don't fly into one accidentally--particularly in the daytime!
SF Bay Area Fatal
Night Flying & the Black Hole Approach
Last month, I stated that 44.1% of Bay Area fatal accidents occurred at night, which is double the rate for the rest of the country! Remember, this is for any flight departing from or flying to a Bay Area airport, so many of these accidents happened outside our immediate area. What I didn't mention was that the rate is even higher if the crash occurs in the Bay area. For those flights from 1993-2000, where the fatal accident actually occurred in the Bay area, fully 54% occurred at night, or 2.5X the rate of night fatal accidents in the rest of the country.
Given the huge factor that night plays in fatal accidents in our area, I'm going to devote space in each newsletter to strategies for dealing with night flight. While prowling the shelves at Powell's Bookstore, I bought up 2 of the 3 books that I could find on the subject, and have scoured the internet for night flying information. We'll focus this month on black hole approaches.
a black hole
It exists on dark nights when there are no surface lights between you and the approach end of the runway. What's the big deal about them? Simulator studies at Boeing dating back to the 1960's have proven that in black hole conditions, pilots consistently fly below a standard 3 degree glideslope, and often crash short of the runway. A particularly hazardous black-hole illusion involves approaching a runway under conditions with no lights before the runway and with city lights or rising terrain beyond the runway. These conditions may produce the visual illusion of a high-altitude final approach. If you believe this illusion, you may respond by lowering your approach slope. In an FAA study, pilots overestimated their approach angle by a factor of 2! Approaching at a 1.5 degree angle may not provide sufficient obstacle clearance, so remember this illusion and stay high at night! In another FAA study, pilots tended to decrease their approach angles when flying toward more narrow runways.
for dealing with black
How high should you stay? One strategies for dealing with black hole approaches is to use the VASI or ILS glideslope to maintain a safe altitude on approach, however not all airports have these. However, with the wide availability of GPS (or DME when there's a VOR on the field), you can approximate your own 3 degree slope. On a 3 degree glideslope, you'll descend 318 feet for each nautical mile you travel. Thus, if you're 4nm from the airport, you should plan to be at least 1300 feet above the ground, assuming there are no higher obstacles. Remember though, that airport GPS waypoints are NOT at the approach end of the runway. Typically, they're at the center of the airport, so plan your approach accordingly.
Rather than fly a long, straight-in approach to a runway at night, you're typically much safer if you just fly a normal traffic pattern and stay relatively close to the runway. You're far better off turning onto final from a base that only takes you a mile from the runway, rather than flying a long straight-in approach that may lure you to descend prematurely because of the black hole illusion, or lead you through a minefield of obstacles and high terrain at some greater distance from the airport.
are the local black
What are some black hole airports in our area? The King City airport, particularly the approach to runway 30 from the south, is a black hole approach since it flies over miles of farm fields. Also, because of irrigation, this area can have lower visibility than the north side of the airport. There's on VASI at this airport, so you definitely want to stay high on approach to it.
Half Moon Bay might also be considered a black hole airport, particularly for straight in approaches over the bay. Accidents statistics for Half Moon Bay, however, show that most of the recent fatal accidents there have been takeoff accidents, rather than landing accidents. It's not unusual for a pilot to take off at night, and climb into the marine layer, resulting in spatial disorientation and loss of control. If you're going to Half Moon, plan to depart before darkness if at all possible. Also, on the climb out, crosscheck your instruments to assure that you keep the wings level and maintain a positive rate of climb. Once you're over the water at night, there may be few lights and no horizon to orient you.
Although, I haven't flown into them at night, I suspect that many of the airports in the Central Valley and the foothills are black hole approach. Probable examples are the Harris Ranch airport (not too many light there), and places like Pine Mountain Lake airport which are surrounded by dark terrain. Do you know of other Black Hole approaches in our area? If so, send me an email and detail your experiences with there airports.
learn more about black
The Flight Safety Foundation has an excellent publication entitled Human Factors & Aviation Medicine November - December 1999 that contains the article "Darkness Increases Risks of Flight" by Dale R. Wilson that discusses some of the human perceptual limitations that lead to night flying accidents. The figure to the left is reproduced from that article and relates to the Boeing simulator study where pilots descended below the glidepath. One explanation, per Wilson, is that as an airplane approaches a runway, "there is one specific flight path that enables the pilot to keep the visual angle constant. That path follows the arc of a circle [see figure] that is centered above the city lights with its circumference contacting the ground, and the pilot believes--incorrectly--that the aircraft is in a straight-line descent.....During the day, a pilot's depth perception helps estimate the distance to an airport, as well as the aircrafts height above it. But in darkness, with the absence of visual clues, such as shadows, topographical references and color variations, the pilot has little or no depth perception. Without depth perception, estimating distance and height becomes more difficult."
Bottom line on black hole approaches? While on approach, you're probably lower than you think you are. So use a VASI or other aid to stay at or above a safe glide path. If there is no VASI or other aid, fly the approach so that you perceive you are higher than you should be!
the most Fatal Accidents?
Low time pilots, private pilots and non-instrument rated pilots
Although it's been out since 2001, I'd never read The Killing Zone: How and Why Pilots Die by Paul A.Craig until I made my most recent pilgrimage to Powell's Bookstore in Portland. It's based on research that Craig did while working on his doctorate. The main thesis that comes through strongly throughout the book is that pilots who have received their private license and still have fewer than 350 total hours of flight time are at the greatest risk of having an accident. No big surprise there. Air Safety Foundation's Nall report consistently shows that pilots with fewer than 500 hours have the most accidents.
What was new to me though was contained near the back of the book in Chapter 13, The Effect of Advanced Flight Training. In it, Craig compare the accident rates between pilots with similar numbers of total hours, but with different licenses and ratings. For example, he found that at every flight hour level, instrument rated pilots had lower accident rates than non-instrument rated pilots. From 1983 until 2000, student and private pilots had a total of 2501 fatal accidents in their first 1000 flight hours, while instrument rated pilots had 365 fatal accidents between receiving the rating and reaching 1000 hours.
Of course there are fewer instrument rated pilots, so this isn't a fair comparison. Over the time period, of all private pilots, approximately one in five had an instrument rating, or 20% of the total. However, these pilots were only involved in 12.8% of the fatal accidents. Clearly, pilots who get an instrument rating have fewer accidents.
The FAA figured this out, and over the years has reduced the time required to get an instrument rating. In the early 1980's, a total of 200 hours were required. In the 1986 that was changed to 125 hours, and in 1997 the regs were changed so that there was no minimum flight hours required to get an instrument rating. Every year of the 1990's saw an increase in the relative number of instrument-rated pilots, and this has undoubtedly contributed to the decline in the overall accident rate in the last decade.
a Brief Commercial: Get your Commercial certificate
Craig also looked at the effect of getting a Commercial certificate on the accident rate. In 1998, there were 247,226 private pilots and 122,053 commercial pilots. So there were roughly twice as many private pilots, however these private pilots had 3 and a half times more fatal accidents! So the numbers are clear. Pilots who spend time getting advanced ratings are safer than their colleagues who have the same number of hours but haven't worked on advanced ratings.
But isn't the commercial license just for pilots planning to get a job in aviation? Not really. In fact, the commercial only allows you to hold a very limited number of jobs including banner towing, pipeline patrol and traffic watch among others. To fly for the airlines, most pilots will be required to get the highest license, the ATP or Airline Transport Pilot certificate. Here's information on the requirements to get a Commercial license and an Instrument rating.
Make sure your DME is set properly!
Statistically, you're safer flying IFR than VFR, but accidents still happen--particularly if you mis-set your radios on approach. In training, I often see the DME ignored or mis-set. This IFR accident at Napa airport highlights the dangers of doing so.
NTSB Identification: LAX90FA068 .
Accident occurred Sunday, January 07, 1990 in NAPA, CA
Aircraft: CESSNA 182P, registration: N1283S
Injuries: 1 Fatal.
The aircraft collided with mountainous terrain while executing an instrument missed approach. The recorded radar data showed that the aircraft was about 4 miles past the missed approach point when the turn was initiated. The VOR Runway 6 approach has a 620 foot MDA and the missed approach point is defined as 3.8 DME on the Scaggs Island VOR 050 radial The radar data showed the aircraft crossed over the airport descending through 1,800 feet MSL. The lowest altitude achieved by the aircraft was 900 feet MSL, which occurred just before the aircraft initiated the missed approach turn. The DME unit in the aircraft can function in both an internal frequency mode and a remote frequency mode. In the remote mode the DME provides info from the Nav radios. In the internal mode, the unit gives info based on the frequency set in the units internal memory. Examination of the DME revealed that he unit was in the internal mode and selected to the Concord VOR, not the Scaggs Island VOR.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of
this accident as follows:
THE FAILURE OF THE PILOT TO PROPERLY EXECUTE THE PUBLISHED APPROACH AND MISSED APPROACH WHICH RESULTED IN A COLLISION WITH MOUNTAINOUS TERRAIN.
Local S.F. Bay
Hotspots for this type of accident
This can really happen anywhere DME is required for an approach. Multiple times, I've seen pilots mis-set their DME on the Localizer/DME 28L approach at Monterey. Typically, they have the DME set for Salinas, instead of the localizer. While the numbers on the DME move and it appears you're properly set up, you're asking for the same kind of trouble as the Napa accident highlighted above.
Anytime you have a Localizer/DME approach, verify the source of the DME
signal. Is it the localizer? Is it another VOR nearby? Don't ever
assume. Check the profile view of your instrument plates carefully and
look for the identifier next to the DME numbers. If they are of the format
I-XXX, they are from a localizer. If they are just XXX, they refer to the
Also, always ID your DME, just as you do your VORs. Select the DME on your audio panel and wait. DME's only transmit their morse code identifiers every 30 seconds, so you may have to wait. Also, the morse code is higher in pitch than the code you'll hear from a VOR.
Recent Fatal crashes in Northern California
Petaluma Grumman crash
Preliminary reports are now out on two crashes that we mentioned in last month's newsletter, and can be found at the NTSB website. On February 9, 2005, a Grumman Tiger crashed shortly after takeoff from Petaluma Airport killing the pilot. It sounds like a classic stall/spin accident that was precipitated by some type of mechanical failure, but we won't know for probably a year when the final report comes out. The preliminary report in its entirety says:
On February 9, 2005, at 1600 Pacific standard time, an American AA1B, N5704L, collided with terrain at the Petaluma Municipal Airport, Petaluma, California. The owner was operating the airplane under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The commercial pilot was fatally injured, and the airplane was destroyed. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a flight plan had not been filed. The local flight originated at Petaluma airport about 1540.
Witnesses reported to the National Transportation Safety Board investigator that the airplane had completed at least one touch-and-go on runway 11. During the climb out following a touch-and-go, they heard the airplane's engine sputter and backfire. The airplane turned towards a downwind direction, but was about 100 feet above ground level (agl) and 100 feet offset to the north of the runway. The airplane paralleled the runway before it pitched nose up and entered a nose down vertical descending right turn, impacting the grass fairway of a golf course. No distress call by the pilot was heard on the airport's common advisory frequency.
Cirrus SR-22 Lake
Last month, there was a widely publicized reporting on a Cirrus SR-22 that crashed in the Sugar Bowl Ski Resort. According to the prelimary report:
On February 6, 2005, about 1820 Pacific standard time, a Cirrus Design Corporation SR22 G2, N286CD, impacted mountainous terrain after encountering icing conditions near Norden, California. The owner/pilot was operating the airplane under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The private pilot, the sole occupant, sustained fatal injuries; the airplane was destroyed. The personal cross-country flight departed Reno/Tahoe International Airport (RNO), Reno, Nevada, at 1753, en route to Oakland, California. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the airplane's cruise altitude and an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan had been filed. The primary wreckage was at 39 degrees 17 minutes north latitude and 120 degrees 20 minutes west longitude.
The National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge (IIC) reviewed recorded radar data and noted a secondary 4271 discreet beacon code (assigned by air traffic control (ATC ) to the accident aircraft) at a mode C reported altitude of 4,600 feet msl (mean sea level). Recorded radar data indicated that the target took off from RNO southbound, and while climbing, executed a 270-degree left turn. It continued climbing on a westerly course for about 18 minutes 30 seconds, and obtained a mode C reported altitude of 16,100 feet msl. The target leveled off and maintained 16,100 feet msl for about 3 minutes 40 seconds. Radar data showed that the target initiated a climb and obtained a mode C reported altitude of 16,700 feet msl. The last 12 seconds of recorded radar data indicated that the target was in a descent. Radar contact was lost at 18:17:29, at a mode C reported altitude of 15,700 feet msl.
During the flight the pilot reported to air traffic controllers that he was in icing conditions and was not able to maintain altitude. Click here for the full preliminary report.
Calistoga CFIT crash
Although this crash occurred in the Napa Valley, I saw no reporting on Bay Area media, but came across the crash information on the www.ntsb.gov website. According to the preliminary report: On February 15, 2005, about 0950 Pacific standard time, a Beech 95, N8269D, impacted the southeast side of Mount St. Helena while in cruise flight near Calistoga, California. The pilot was operating the airplane under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The private pilot and one passenger sustained fatal injuries and the airplane was destroyed. The personal cross-country flight originated from Oroville Municipal Airport, Oroville, California, at an unknown time, with a planned destination of the Charles M. Schulz- Sonoma County Airport, Santa Rosa, California. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a flight plan had not been filed.
On February 17, 2005, an alert notification (ALNOT) was issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) about 1430 after notice from a concerned family member that the airplane was missing and overdue. Both the Civil Air Patrol and local authorities were notified of an overdue aircraft; several hours later the airplane wreckage was located at 38 degrees 40 minutes north latitude and 122 degrees 36 minutes west longitude, and at an elevation of approximately 3,300 feet mean sea level (msl). The accident site was located approximately 17 nautical miles northeast of Santa Rosa. Click here for the full preliminary report.
It's natural to want to speculate on the cause, but the preliminary report doesn't give us much of a clue as to what happened. The crash was during daylight hours, and there's no reference to clouds or other weather in the area. Based on the report, we're left to believe that a twin engine plane simply flew into the side of a hill while in VMC conditions during the daytime. For that to happen, a pilot would have to be very distracted to not notice that he was flying into a low mountain. Something is missing from this picture, and hopefully we'll learn more in a year or so from the final report. Or, perhaps like a small percentage of accidents, the cause will be determined to be "unknown," and we'll be left to wonder why.
As a safety conscious pilot, I'm sure you carry at least two flashlights don't you? It's helpful to have a larger D-cell type flashlight for pre-flighting the airplane. Ideally, of course, you'd like to be able to pre-flight your airplane before darkness falls. But if you do have to do it at night, you want a nice bright flashlight. Of course that's the opposite of what you need in the cockpit--which is why you need a second (and ideally a third) flashlight.
In the cockpit, you'll want a non-white light flashlight. Historically, red was the color of choice, and it's always been easy to buy red lenses for the popular Mag lights that run on a pair of AA cells. The downside of using a red light is that all of the information printed in red on your sectional chart totally disappears in red light. In recent years green lights and most recently blue lights have become the lights colors of choice.
A chronic problem has always been how to use the flashlight without having to use one of your hands. As you discovered, hands are very useful things in the cockpit, particularly if you want to do more than one thing at a time, and it's often annoying to have to hold a flashlight in one hand, or worse yet, hold it in your teeth, while you're flying.
On my most recent trip, I found myself with some time to kill at a shopping mall, and I wandered into The Sharper Image. Whereas I remember them as a store with $100 and higher items, the store now stocks products in a variety of price points (as the founders book--available by the cash register--points out). Since I still haven't solved the "hold the flashlight in your hand" problem, I was intrigued by a small LED flashlight they sell for $14.95, and I walked out of the store as the proud owner of their model IQ201, that clips to your ear, as you can see in the photo. Of course, after I walked out of the store and started playing with it I realized what you've probably already figured out. While it sure is nifty that it clips onto your ear so that you don't hold it, it's not going to fit too well under my headset! I've since decided to throw it into my headset bag, so that I'll always have a flashlight with me. If necessary, I think I can wrap the ear clip around the headband to attach it to my headset.
A better solution may be something I spotted at the Boeing Store, after taking their factory tour in Everett, WA earlier this week. It's another lightweight LED flashlight that comes with a clip that will attach to a baseball hat, which is something that will fit under my headset. While the Boeing store only had it in white light (and so I didn't buy one), the packaging indicated that it's also available in red, blue, or green light.
You can read more about it at www.princetontec.com by looking for their "Impulse" model under the Outdoor Products. According to the website, "Powered by 2 lithium coin cells, the high powered L.E.D bulb burns up to 36 hours and has 5 electronic switch settings ranging from low, medium & high beam, to fast & slow strobe." It's only available through their dealers, or you might check local pilot shops. At a seminar a few weeks ago, one pilot mentioned that he likes the "miner headlamp" style flashlights, since they're hands free, and the PrincetonTec website has one of these as well.
There are Instrument Approaches at SQL and PAO that cannot be used for practice?
Any instrument pilot knows that Instrument approaches are not just there to get you down under the clouds in bad weather--there are also there to give you practice flying instrument approaches even on severe clear days. But did you know that NorCal approach won't let you do practice approaches on some approaches?
Occasionally, I've heard NorCal Approach tell pilots that they cannot fly a practice instrument approach at SQL or PAO and they often sound like they think all pilots know this. Perhaps, but it's not something I had ever seen in print or heard communicated in any other way. But lo and behold, while surfing the net, I ran across the FAA's documentation regarding this.
The FAA's Western Region homepage has tons of information including a Letter's to Airmen page, which sounds a little funny, since I don't think they send these letters out to airmen. Letter #04-03 states:
San Carlos Airport (SQL) Practice Instrument Approach Availability
CANCELLATION: April 1, 2005
1. Practice approaches to San Carlos Airport via the GPS Runway 30 approach are not authorized. This procedure is not available for practice approaches due to safety issues associated with conflicting approach procedures at adjacent airports.
2. Due to the conflict with approach procedures at adjacent airports, aircraft requesting the SQL GPS RWY30 approach to SQL for other than a practice approach may experience delays.
Letter #03-05 states:
Palo Alto Airport (PAO) Practice Instrument Approach availability
CANCELLATION: September 1, 2005
1. Practice approaches to Palo Alto Airport via the RWY 30 VOR/DME approach are not authorized. This procedure is no longer available for practice approaches due to safety issues associated with conflicting approach procedures at adjacent airports. Aircraft requesting a practice PAO GPS RWY30 approach will be accommodated on a workload-permitting basis. 2. Aircraft requesting the VOR/DME RWY30 approach to PAO, for other than a practice approach, should expect to experience lengthy delays. The PAO GPS RWY30 approach is available with little or no delay.
So now you know.
March 10, 2005 6:30PM Trade Winds @ RHV airport "Gettting What You Need from ATC"
Speaker: Jim Jensen, RHV controller Register at www.faasafety.gov
March 17, 2005 6:30PM Elks Lodge, Santa Clara, CA 99's Pasta Night Fundraiser. www.santaclaravalley99s.org
March 22, 2005 7:00PM Reid-Hillview
Terminal Bay Area Accident Analysis Seminar
Speaker: Max Trescott, Master CFI Register at www.sjflight.com/inquiry.htm
April 18, 2005 7:00PM Sheraton Gateway, Burlingame, CA Air Safety Foundation Seminar on Weather
April 23, 2005 All Day Reid-Hillview Terminal 99's Flying Companion Seminar Call 510-673-4505
Pilot Safety News
© 2005 by Max Trescott
Master CFI & FAA Aviation Safety Counselor
Please contact me with your feedback or if I can be of service to you.
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