A Safety Journal for General Aviation
by Max Trescott, Master CFI & FAA Aviation Safety Counselor
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Happy New Year!
I hope you missed us last month! Pilot Safety News took the month off, but what a month, as the number of fatal accidents in the S.F. Bay area tragically spiked up. More details on some of these many accidents are included in this newsletter--we'll cover a couple more of them next month.
We will spotlight go-arounds in this issue. Why? because they have more preventative power than a flu-shot. Used properly, they'll eliminate that final link in an accident chain and keep you safe. We'll highlight a recent incident at Palo Alto that trashed a beautiful Cessna T210, and you know us--we have pictures.
The shameless commerce division of Pilot Safety News would like to make you aware of our S.F. Bay Tour map that's a hot seller. If you ever fly the Bay Tour and have questions on preferred routes and procedures, you may want to get a copy. You'll find more details below and at Bay Tour Map. Remember, this is a free newsletter, so show your support and buy a copy! Better yet, buy a set of four and use them as placemats.
Look for Max's airplane matchmaking service below. I'm not planning to make this a regular service, but knowing how hard it is to find good partners, I'll list a couple of shares that I know are available in the area.
Thanks to everyone who came out to my December 6 Night Flying Safety Seminar at Reid-Hillview airport. We had a huge turnout and as always a good time. The topic was particularly timely considering some of the accidents we'll discuss below. There is a new article that's just come out on night flying. In the same issue, you'll also find an article on the risk factors associated with flying into the South Lake Tahoe, CA airport. These stories and more are in the current issue of the FAA's Aviation News.
If you'd like to come to one of my future seminars, I'll be speaking on Glass Cockpit aircraft at Ahart at the Livermore Airport on January 11 at 7PM, and at the West Valley Flying Club at Palo Alto Airport on February 8 at 7PM. On February 14, I'll be speaking on Risk Management to the South County Airman's Association at the Wings of History Museum in San Martin starting at 7PM. This latter topic is appropriate, since one of last month's fatal flights originated from the South County Airport. Please join me at either of these and come up and say hello.
Feel free to forward this newsletter to your flying friends and encourage them to subscribe. If you're on the distribution list, you'll receive an email each month highlighting the information contained in the online version of the newsletter. Submissions and feedback are always welcome!
Have fun and fly safely!
Max Trescott, Master CFI
Palo Alto Incident
When you first think you may have to go-around....go-around!
Four people from Santa Monica flying into Palo Alto learned an important lesson about go-arounds last month. You can learn from their experience AND save having to pay the deductible on your insurance. A CFI friend of mine was in the run-up area when this incident occurred and later talked to one of the pilots. Here's what happened.
A Beech 18 was taking off. These are venerable old birds with huge radial engines that are always head-turners. This one was no different and my friend was admiring it take off. Moments later, he noticed a Cessna P210 come in to land right behind it. The plane was very close and high, which prompted him to ask the ground controller if the plane was having an emergency. The controller's response was "What do you mean?" The plane then landed long, went over the dike at the end of the runway and down the other side. All four people aboard exited the aircraft and were uninjured.
So what happened? Apparently the spacing between the P210 and the Beech 18 was tight. Why that is, I don't know. Perhaps the Beech 18 was slow to initiate its takeoff, the P210 was fast on final, or something else was going on. That part isn't really relevant to the story. Tight spacing happens all the time. The issue is what do you do about it?
The pilot in the right seat noted the tight spacing and made the following comment to the pilot in the left seat: "Stay high, you may have to do a go-around." That statement is rather interesting on its face and is also directly related to the incident. It's seems to be a case of trying to have your cake and eat it too. On the one hand was the desire to stay high to increase separation, and on the other was the desire to keep open the option of landing.
What did staying high in this case accomplish? It apparently precluded the possibility of a safe landing. That's probably no surprise to anyone who's flown a 210 into Palo Alto. I owned one based at that airport for years, and in calm wind situations, you were nearly always guaranteed to use the full length of the runway--and we had a Short Takeoff and Landing (STOL) kit! Key to success was always flying the approach speed correctly, which was 70 knots for short field landings--and every landing at PAO was treated as a short field landing.
How did staying high facilitate a go-around? Hard to say. Pilots should be able to execute a go-around successfully from even a few feet or inches above the runway. Staying high is certainly not necessary to do a go-around. Perhaps the idea was to increase separation between the landing and departing aircraft. But if the planes were that close, why even try to effect a landing?
The best advice I ever heard regarding go-arounds was this: The moment you first think that maybe you should go-around--go-around! There's no point in having an ongoing discussion in your head about whether you should or shouldn't go-around. JUST DO IT! It may save bent metal and possible injuries.
One local flying club had a spate of incidents over the last year and decided to analyze the root causes of the accidents. In the final analysis, they concluded that 70% of the accidents would have been avoided if the pilot or instructor had initiated a timely go-around! This led to a lot of discussion with the instructors and strong encouragement to focus less on trying to "save" a landing and more on frequent use of go-arounds. Since then, the incident rate has dropped dramatically.
The FAA's Airplane Flying Handbook states that the earlier you recognize the need for a go-around, the safer the rejected landing will be. "It becomes dangerous only when delayed unduly or executed improperly. Delay in initiating the go-around normally stems from two sources:
1) landing expectancy--the anticipatory belief that conditions are not as threatening as they are and that the approach will surely be terminated with a safe landing, and
2) pride--the mistaken belief that the act of going around is an admission of failure--failure to execute the approach properly."
The three elements of a go-around are power, attitude, and configuration.
Power is your first concern. The instant you make a decision to go-around, apply full takeoff power. Per the Airplane Flying Handbook, "applying only partial power in a go-around is never appropriate...The application of power should be smooth as well as positive. Abrupt movements of the throttle in some airplanes will cause the engine to falter. Carburetor heat should be turned off for maximum power."
Attitude is critical when close to the ground. "The airplane executing a go-around must be maintained in an attitude that permits a buildup of airspeed well beyond the stall point before any effort is made to gain altitude, or to execute a turn. Raising the nose too early may produce a stall from which the airplane could not be recovered if the go-around is performed at a low altitude."
Candidly, most of the time I see the opposite problem. Pilots are not pitching the plane for a climb attitude. Instead, they've applied full power and are accelerating to cruise speed while flying straight-and-level low to the ground! You'd think we had set-up pylons and we're trying to cut a ribbon with the propeller. Once you apply full power, CLIMB! That means pitching the nose at least to the horizon, if not somewhat above it, to get a positive rate of climb. Once you have an appropriate pitch attitude and climb speed, give the trim wheel a rough adjustment to reduce control pressure.
In cleaning up the airplane, you'll want to raise the flaps first and then attend to the landing gear. Caution must be used, however, in retracting the flaps. Generally, you should raise the flaps in increments, and not remove them all at once. "A sudden and complete retraction of the flaps could cause a loss of lift resulting in the airplane settling into the ground." I see this all the time. If you don't believe it, just try it sometime at altitude. Raise all the flaps at once and you'll feel the plane drop down--just at the time when you want to be climbing!
"It's generally recommended that flaps be retracted (at least partially) before landing gear--for two reasons. First, on most airplanes full flaps produce more drag than the landing gear; and second, in case the airplane should inadvertently touch down as the go-around is initiated, it is most desirable to have the landing gear in the down-and-locked position. After a positive rate of climb is established, the landing gear can be retracted."
Common errors in the performance of go-arounds are:
Failure to recognize the need to go-around
Delay in initiating a go-around
Failure to apply maximum allowable power in a timely manner
Abrupt power application
Failure to configure the airplane properly
Attempting to climb out of ground effect prematurely
Failure to adequately compensate for torque/P-factor
So the next time you come in for a landing and things don't look quite right, the moment you start thinking about maybe you need to do a go-around---JUST DO IT!
Don't Leave Home Without It!
I think this is the only commercial plug I've made in a year of doing this newsletter--you're welcome to skip ahead if you're not interested. If you live in the S.F. Bay area, you've undoubtedly heard about the San Francisco Bay Tour. In fact, once I had a phone call from a pilot identifying himself as a Marine officer who was flying a C-130 later in the day from Southern California to the S.F. Bay area who wanted to know how to fly the Bay Tour! As I recall, he wanted to know if he needed to stay in contact with ATC while conducting the tour over the Bay. I advised him that while it wasn't legally required, at the speeds he would be flying it was highly recommended!
More typically, I teach seminars on the Bay Tour that are jammed with pilots wanting to know how to conduct a Bay Tour. Many of them are extremely experienced pilots and yet they want to eliminate all possible doubt about how to fly the tour? Why? Probably because they perceive that the stakes are relatively high. After all, to conduct a tour, you generally move rapidly from one control facility to another and it pays to know where they want you to be and which frequency you're going to be asked to go to next.
Originally, I developed the map to project during Bay tour seminars to show people the preferred routes and altitudes at which ATC generally likes to see pilots. I worked with NorCal Approach and several local towers to develop it, and they have copies of the map for reference.
About a year ago, I started selling laminated versions with the map on the front and completed route descriptions and frequencies on the back. The map has already been updated once for frequency changes. If you have a map that says "Rev. 4/05" on the bottom of the back side, you have the latest map. They're now available in many local pilot stores and in just a year, hundreds have been sold. You can find a list of stores and even a number for ordering maps over the telephone at Bay Tour Map. Many pilots have also come to me and other instructors for Bay Tour flight instruction, where we ride along and show you the ropes as you fly a Bay Tour. If you've never done a Bay Tour, put it on your list of resolutions for 2006. You--and the many friends and relatives that you'll eventually take on tours--will be glad you did!
Training in TAA
Research into new methods of Training Pilots
Occasionally I get into discussions with some of my Master CFI colleagues around the country who are also giving FITS training in TAA, and one of the recurring topics is that the current PTS, which tends to guide private pilot training, has a heavy emphasis on the motor skills required to achieve certain maneuvers but is lacking in pilot decision making skills. Yet, what do you think is more important? Whether a pilot maintains his altitude within 100 feet during a steep turn or whether he knows what to do when he discovers he's flying into deteriorating weather? Duh. That's a no brainer. Unfortunately, it hasn't come soon enough to help the pilots we'll discuss in the accidents below.
Fortunately, something is being done about this and it's happening in the form of FITS, or FAA Industry Training Standards. I've received FITS training at Cessna, and now deliver it to pilots who purchase new airplanes through TradeWinds Aviation in San Jose but aren't able to attend the factory training. There's a strong emphasis on scenario based training, situational awareness and self-grading. Standardized flights are used in which pilots need to demonstrate a certain set of skills that mimic what they're likely to encounter on typical flights in this area.
Middle Tennessee State University is one place that's doing a lot of work with FITS, and they have received approval to teach their students combined instrument and private training. That's right, when they finally take a checkride it's a combined Private/Instrument checkride and they have far fewer total hours than most pilots would have at this point. The class places major emphasis on automation (mode awareness, automation traps), situation awareness, GPS technology and GPS programming skills. Computer based training is used with real flight scenarios, critical thinking skills, and NTSB reports of fatal accidents.
They recently compared two groups of pilots: 16 students who were in the combined private/instrument class and 24 who'd obtained their instrument rating within the last 3 months. Total flight hours: 90 hours for the combined private/instrument group vs.188 hours for the pilots with traditional training. Here are their survey responses.
|Survey Question||Combined private/instrument||Traditional training|
|Not Comfortable flying alone in the IFR environment||0%||18%|
|Not Comfortable flying alone in IMC||14%||38%|
|Would you feel comfortable using a GPS when flying IMC||100%||48%|
|What are your personal minimums: visibility||3.5 miles||2.07 miles|
|What are your personal minimums: cloud heights||2100 AGL||1,350 AGL|
|Never thought about personal minimums||18%||68%|
Which pilot would you like to have along with you on a trip? I'd certainly take the low time pilot who's comfortable programming his GPS in IMC and has thought about personal minimums. Clearly, we're failing our clients if they get to nearly 200 hours of flight time and haven't at least thought about personal minimums.
So here's your homework assignment. If you don't know what your personal minimums are for flying, download the Personal Minimums Checklist from my www.sjflight.com website, and start filling out the form. It's probably the best aviation gift that you can give yourself for the New Year.
Online Flight Review Prep Course
Occasionally people ask me how they should prepare for a Flight Review, which is the current name for what used to be called the BFR or biennial flight review. The FAA has released several new resources in the last month which can help you do that. One is an online review course which organizes a review of regulations and other pertinent information into the following four categories:
Pilot - your responsibility as PIC
Aircraft - airworthiness, maintenance, and inspections
enVironment - airports, airspace, air traffic control, and weather
External pressures - decision-making and risk management
PAVE, as you may know, is the acronym that the FAA uses in its Personal Minimums Checklist and Aeronautical Decision Making literature. Once you've completed the course, you can print out a certificate that qualifies for the seminar portion of the Wings program. Wings, as you may know, is an alternate to a Flight Review where you attend a seminar (this online course qualifies as the seminar) and then fly for 1 hour of maneuvers, 1 hour of landings and 1 hour of hood time with a CFI.
To get to the online prep course, go to www.faasafety.gov and click on "Learning Center" on the top menu bar. Then click on "Online Courses" and finally on "Flight Review Prep Guide." Don't forget to print out your certificate when you're done.
an Effective Flight
Review--for CFI's and everyone
The FAA also published a new guide intended for CFI's that provides guidance on conducting a flight review. However, it's also an excellent tool to use for preparing for a Flight Review. One difference is that if you prepare using this, you do not get a certificate qualifying for seminar credit for the Wings program--which means that you still need to do a minimum of 1 hour of ground review with a CFI as part of your Flight Review. Still, you may find the guide useful as a means of stimulating your thought process about how to make the best use of the time you spend with a CFI on your Flight Review. Notice too in the Acknowledgements section that yours truly is mentioned for my minor contributions to the document.
To find Conducting and Effective Flight Review, you may be able to get to it directly by going to http://www.faa.gov/pilots/training/media/flight_review.pdf. If not, go to www.faasafety.gov, click on "Online resources," then "Resources for Pilots" and finally on "Pilots -- CFI." Then click on "Flight Review Guidance (FAA)."
Rosa Crash - Beech F33A
Familiarity Breed Complacency?
On November 9, 2005, at 6:34 PM local time, a Beech F33A impacted near the top of a mountain ridge northeast of Santa Rosa at Geyserville, CA. The plane had departed Redding and was descending for landing at Santa Rosa. According to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department air unit, there were patchy and broken cloud layers with mountain obscuration in the area. They also stated that it was a very dark night.
Often we hear stories of inexperienced pilots who are unfamiliar with the terrain, but this was not the case. The pilot was an attorney who lived in Redding and maintained offices in Redding and Santa Rosa. He flew to Santa Rosa every week for appointments.
Information from Oakland Center shows that he contacted them at 6:04PM for flight following and received VFR advisories while flying at 7,500 feet. At 6:33PM, he reported that he had the airport in sight and wanted to cancel VFR services. The pilot also thanked Oakland Center for the "light show," presumably referring to the lightning in the S.F. Bay area.
Over the last minute of the flight, radar data indicated the plane was descending from 4,200 feet through 4,000 feet. The last recorded radar return was at 3,500 feet, 4 miles northeast of the accident site. The first point of contact was along a ridgeline of Black Mountain at 3,031 feet, 197 feet above the main wreckage. The site is approximately 14 nm north-northeast of the Santa Rosa airport and was the last ridge that the plane need to cross to exit a mountainous region.
Clearly night was a factor. According to the NTSB, nearly 90% of night accident occur in "dark night" conditions in which there's no moon or it's obscured by an overcast. The Sheriff's deputies confirmed that these type of conditions existed.
Clouds were also undoubtedly a factor. The pilot reported having the airport in sight, but with the reported patchy clouds in the area, he may have lost sight of the airport. Any time you approach a ridge at an altitude below the ridge, the number of lights you see on the far side of the ridge will decrease as you approach the ridge. Conversely, if you're going to clear a ridge, you'll see more and more lights on the far side of the ridge as you get closer to it. With dark night conditions and patchy clouds, the pilot may have seen the airport lights disappear. In these conditions, it may have been difficult to know whether the lights disappeared because of clouds, or the approaching ridgeline that he didn't clear.
One factor that's unlikely to be mentioned in the final NTSB report is complacency, but it could have played a factor. Flying the same trip every week can frankly get a little boring. After awhile, it feels like a regular "milk run" where you know every detail about the trip. The pilot's comment to ATC thanking them for "the light show," while innocuous in itself, might suggest that the pilot's mind was elsewhere as he approached the most hazardous part of his journey--descent over mountainous terrain. We'll never know what he was thinking at the time, but we can develop techniques that keep us safe at night when flying a milk run.
Create a Descent
If you have a route that you regularly fly, take the time in the daytime to determine the minimum safe altitude for every segment of the flight. For example, if you regularly fly into the S.F. Bay area through some of the passes, such as the Altamont Pass east of Livermore and the Sunol pass southwest of Livermore, figure out the minimum altitude that you feel comfortable flying through those passes during the day. Then at night, don't ever go below those altitudes and make a 180° turn if you're unable to maintain your personal minimums for visibility and cloud clearances.
In the Santa Rosa example, there's a VOR on the field that's DME equipped. If would be very simple to establish minimum safe altitudes for given distances from the VOR. That way, on a dark night with patchy clouds, you won't have to guess whether it's safe to descend--you'll know! A GPS can be used in same way. Even better, get a GPS with a terrain database, such as the Garmin GPS296 and GPS396. A little planning ahead of time will go a long way to keeping you out of the rocks at night.
Finding an airplane partner can often be challenging. I know, I've been there. Finding the right partner is certainly a lot harder than finding the right plane. That part is relatively easy. So in the spirit of helping our readers who might have an interest in airplane partnerships, here are two opportunities. If either of them is a potential fit for you, send me an email and I'll put you in touch with the people.
Partnership For Sale
The longtime, sole owner of a 1978 Cessna 172, hangered at the Reid-Hillview airport, is interested in selling a quarter share in this airplane to a partner. Cost to buy into the airplane is $10,000. As I recall, the owner wants someone with at least 200 hours and an instrument rating, to keep the insurance cost the same.
A pilot wants to buy a share of a Cessna 182 in an existing partnership at the Reid-Hillview airport. The pilot is currently non-instrument rated, but has received excellent training by a local Master CFI (guess who).
Jose couple lost in Visalia Crash
On December 10 at about 11:30 AM, a Piper PA-32RT-300 (Lance) impacted trees and crashed into a cherry orchard near Kingsburg, CA. The owner/pilot and his wife were both killed in the crash. The airplane was destroyed in the crash and the post impact fire. The plane, destined for Visalia, departed the Reid-Hillview airport in San Jose.
According to radar track data, an airplane was 12 nm northwest of Visalia at 1600 feet, and it continued toward a point 3.8 nm northwest of Visalia, where it had climbed to 2,100 feet and then began a gradual descending right turn. The airplane tracked back to the northwest where radar contact was lost at 300 feet and 1.5 miles south of the accident site.
Weather at Visalia, 11.67 nm southeast of the accident site, was reported as winds calm, visibility less than 1/4 mile, skies 100 feet overcast, temperature 7° C, dewpoint 7° C. There was no flight plan filed, so the pilot, who was instrument rated, was not conducting an IFR flight.
the heck happened?
What were they thinking? Again, we'd like to be able to get into the pilot's thought process, which of course we cannot. However, we do know that they were trying to make a schedule and were behind schedule. Family members reported the pilot and his wife contacted them by phone at 10:00 AM indicating that they were running a little late for their scheduled 11 AM arrival at Visalia. Airport records show the airplane left RHV at 10:26AM. It's 131 nm between the two airports, so accounting for time to climb over the mountains, it would take about an hour for a Piper Lance to complete this trip.
The pilot was instrument rated and Visalia has an ILS approach, two GPS approaches and a VOR approach. So why wasn't the pilot on an instrument flight plan? Perhaps since he was late, he saved time by not filing. Or, maybe he was not instrument current. Typically, when I ask pilots at safety seminars how many are instrument rated and how many are current, only about half of instrument pilots are current. Having been non-current many times in the past I can tell you that this creates a mindset which says that you cannot fly an instrument approach (which is true), but that maybe you can sneak in some other way (which is often not true!).
In this case, even if our pilot had flown the ILS approach, the conditions were below minimums, so it's doubtful that he could have landed anyway. However, to decide to gradually descend to get below the Tule fog that forms in the Central Valley is crazy! The fog often goes close to the ground and is remarkably persistent, lasting for days at a time.
At about 5 PM on the evening before the crash, I was with a client flying practice instrument approaches to the Merced airport 65 miles northwest of the accident site. When we first arrived, conditions were 3 miles visibility, however in a very short time as sunset approached, it dropped to 1.25 miles visibility. Undoubtedly, the fog thickened even more overnight and in the early morning hours.
If there's anything to be learned from this, it may be to beware of trying to meet a schedule when flying small airplanes. The same goal oriented behavior that makes us successful in other portions of our life can be deadly when we come up against circumstances and weather conditions that make a safe approach and landing impossible. Should you ever find yourself rushing to meet a schedule in an airplane, recognize that as a potential red flag and take a moment to consider whether you're taking any unneeded risk. If you are, identify an alternative with a known positive outcome and take that course of action. There's no point in rushing to your own funeral.
January 11, 2006 7:00 PM G1000 Glass Cockpit seminar, Ahart, Livermore Airport
February 11, 2006 10:30AM Tuskegee Airman Speaking,
Hiller Museum, San Carlos Airport
Tickets are $9/adults and $6/seniors. Discounted coupons are available in the lobby of RHV airport.
February 8, 2006 7:00 PM G1000 Glass Cockpit seminar, West Valley Flying Club, Palo Alto Airport
On the Air
Hats off to the comedy team at RHV tower that pulled this one off.
My Client: RHV tower, Cessna XXX requesting a downwind departure with information, uh, uh.
Me: (loudly) FOXTROT.
My Client: Foxtrot
RHV Ground: Cessna XXX taxi to runway, uh...
(Loudly in the background from another controller): 31 RIGHT.
We were laughing for a long time after that!
Pilot Safety News
© 2006 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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