A Safety Journal for General Aviation
by Max Trescott, Master CFI & FAA Aviation Safety Counselor
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I hope you're enjoying your winter flying. I've been extremely busy recently with multiple trips across the country in Columbia (now Cessna) and Cirrus aircraft. I had some success in planning these trips using the little known GFS Weather charts. Since these are an excellent tool for forecasting potential icing multiple days in advance, I've written up how to find and use these charts in this issue.
Winter also brings with it more than its fair share of accidents. I was struck by the similarities of some of the accidents in November, and how they could have been avoided my a strict adherence to some of the conventional as well as unconventional Personal Minimums. I hope you'll enjoy this issue's unconventional article on Personal Minimums.
Last month, I attended a meeting in Oklahoma City, where the FAA reviewed plans for updates to knowledge tests, Practical Test Standards, and numerous aviation handbooks. I also got to meet a number of people in the aviation education industry, and I assure you that these people whose names who read on the products you buy are some of smartest, nicest people you'll ever meet. Some of the good news was that there was a 8% increase in the number of Private Airplane knowledge tests taken in 2007 versus 2006. However, the number of Sport Airplane knowledge tests actually declined, perhaps because the early pent-up demand for this rating has been satisfied. There was also discussion on how to improve knowledge tests questions. If you ever find a knowledge test question that you feel should be improved, send details to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last month I mentioned my new blog at new blog on General Aviation Advocacy and Air Safety, which you'll find at www.maxtrescott.com. I've posted the introductions to a couple of the articles in this newsletter. For example, you can read a little about Clancy Prevost, CFI, American Hero and my article urging the FAA to adopt more aggressive general aviation safety goals.
I've also been busy updating my Max Trescott's G1000 Glass Cockpit Handbook. Look for the 3rd edition--which is now 40 pages longer--to become available in early March. Learning to use these systems can be challenging, and you'll enjoy Beyond the Buttons, an article by the FAA's Susan Parson which may give you a framework for dealing with these complex systems.
The internet is of course the frontier of lots of change. For example, podcasts have been around for a couple of years and it's becoming clearer as to which ones will have the staying power and the audiences to continue. In this issue, we'll talk about some of our favorite Aviation podcasts that you may want to try.
Speaking of the internet, YouTube is now the most popular place to view videos online. In keeping with the changes of the world, we'll tell you in this newsletter how you can view our new
By the way if you'd like to meet and talk in person, please come to one of my upcoming speaking engagements. You'll find a list of them and other aviation events in Upcoming Events. In the meantime, fly safety and have fun!
Max Trescott, Master CFI and Master Ground Instructor
Tune in to the latest aviation news
The world is constantly changing and in the process is creating new ways to enjoy learning about and staying in touch with aviation. Obviously you know something about computers, since you're using one to access this newsletter. Undoubtedly, you've heard about podcasts, the latest way to download and listen to audio on virtually any topic. If you have an iPod or iPhone, then undoubtedly, you're familiar with subscribing listening to podcasts. Even if you don't have one of these gadgets, you can still listen to podcasts with just your computer and a web browser. Best of all, most podcasts are free!
The beauty of podcasts is that unlike mass media, which indiscriminately reaches thousands or millions of people who have little in common, podcasts may go out to only a few thousand people, located anywhere on the planet. By using the internet, podcasts allow one to microcast, rather than broadcast, messages selectively to just those people with a particular interest. Given the tens if not hundreds of thousands of people who are passionate about aviation, it's not surprising that a number of good aviation podcasts are available. We talk about a few of them, and ways to receive them.
According to one podcaster, about 90% of his listeners subscribe to his podcasts, so they are automatically downloaded when people connect their iPods to the internet for updates. Approximately 10% of listeners go directly to the website to search for and listen to podcasts. Perhaps one or two percent of the people listen in other ways. For example, I recently acquired a VX6800 Smartphone from Verizon and loaded it with Hilton Software's WingX application. So not only do I have a complete flight planning and weather information package available on my phone, but I can also download and listen to podcasts from a number of podcasters. The length of many of these podcasts is perfectly matched to my 15 minute commute to and from the airport. We talked about WingX in a previous issue of Pilot Safety News, and you can learn more about it at www.hiltonsoftware.com.
One of my favorite podcasts is The Finer Points, which can be found at www.thefinerpoints.net. It's hosted by Jason Miller, a fellow CFI at the West Valley Flying Club, in Palo Alto, CA. Jason is also a talented musician, so in addition to learning about aviation, you get to hear some of his music as well. His podcasts, delivered weekly, are designed to explore some nuance, or finer point, related to flying. Typically less than 15 minutes, each podcast is self-contained and provides a succinct treatment, usually on just a single topic. There are more than 100 episodes available for downloading, so there are many hours of listening pleasure available.
If you're interested in learning about the Garmin G1000, you can hear me talking about it way back on episode #25. You'll also hear me in the near future on the Finer Points talking about some current topics, including user fees, WAAS and ADS-B.
Aero-News.net produces the only daily aviation podcasts of which I'm aware. There are two versions of the daily newscasts. The Aero-Briefings run about 17 to 18 minutes each, including a couple of minutes of commercials. The Touch-and-Go podcasts run about 4 to 5 minutes, cover some, but not all of the same stories, and do not go into as great a depth.
In addition to the daily news roundup pieces, they produce specialty podcasts, for General Aviation, Sport Aviation, Aerospace, Commercial Aviation, Business Aviation and Military. Although these are less frequent, they often feature interviews with some of the biggest names in aviation.
There's also a weekly segment in which Bob Miller, a CFI friend of mine from the Buffalo, NY area, is interviewed. For example in December, Bob did two segments on dealing with icing. Those were very timely for me, as I was about to launch on a trip flying coast-to-coast across the country and I picked up a couple of new tips from the podcasts. Bob is also the producer of the Over the Airways newsletter, which I highly recommend.
AvWeb, another popular aviation new website, also produces podcasts, which are delivered on Monday and Friday each week. The podcasts often feature interviews. For example, Andy Cebula, AOPA's executive vice president of government affairs, was recently interviewed on the current status us user fees.
Other podcasts that you might want to consider listening to include:
Civil Air Patrol Today
The Conversation at AirSafe.com
GFS Weather Forecasts
Great long range planning tool for avoiding Icing
As pilots, we have a vast number of weather information sources available to us. The internet provides virtually every type of information at your fingertips, and is a vast improvement over the days when we had to rely primarily on a 20-30 minute phone call with a weather briefer. Trying to assimilate those audio data dumps into a mental picture of the weather was less than ideal. Now the challenge is the opposite: Sorting through all of the weather data to extract the critical information most relevant to your flight.
You've probably noticed that there is tons of information on what the weather is at the moment, and how it's expected to change over the next 24 hours. Between 24 and 48 hours, you can also get Outlook information from aviation weather services. Beyond 48 hours, however, pilots have typically had to rely upon general, mainstream weather sources such as The Weather Channel on cable TV, and the www.weather.com website. While helpful, pilots could use more specific information, particularly when doing long-term flight planning.
There is an excellent source of long range weather forecasts information available, but you won't find it on the typical aviation websites such as www.aviationweather.gov. I first learned about the GFS forecast charts, which go out up to 180 hours or more than a week, at a Cirrus Pilot Proficiency Program held in Van Nuys, CA. Static versions of the charts can be found at the Cirrus Pilots and Owners Association Website under "Weather Links." A looped version, which lets you look at predicted changes ever 6 to 12 hours, can be found at the National Center for Atmospheric Research website.
Selecting the charts is relatively easy. Here's a portion of the screen that comes up when you go to the National Center for Atmospheric Research website. This link takes us directly to the GFS or Global Forecast System charts. Note that if you'd prefer to use the RUC or Eta model charts instead, you can click on the blue labels and switch to these forecasts types. Candidly I don't know the difference between the models, but I do know that the GFS models go out further in time, which is why I use them.
If you want to see a single chart, click on the checkbox next to one of the forecast time periods from 00 hours to 180 hours. Or, click on the checkbox next to "loop all times" if you'd like to see a loop of all the forecasts. This mode is handy since you can easily see the predicted changes over time. In some web browsers, you can stop the looping and incrementally advance from one chart to the next. However in some web browsers, such as IE 7.0, you're not able to stop animated sequence, which makes it a little more difficult to tract the projected changes.
Next, you need to select a chart type. I always use the charts from under the "Aloft plots" column. The trick is in knowing how to translate between millibars and altitudes. Otherwise, you don't know what you're looking at. Typically, I start by clicking on "700 mb Temps", which provides temperature and humidity data for approximately 10,000 feet. Since the charts are designed for a specific pressure level, the actual altitude to which a chart corresponds will vary perhaps plus or minus 1,000 feet, depending upon the portion of the chart you're using and the local forecasted pressure.
The 700 mb Temps charts works great here in California, since to get out of state, we routinely fly that higher or higher for at least some portion of the flight. If I anticipate the need to go higher, I look at the "500 mb Temps" chart which equates to approximately 18,000 feet. Finally, if I need some low altitude information, particularly if I'm flying in the midwest or the east coast, I'll use the "850 mb Temps" charts which equates to approximately 5,000 feet. Candidly, I rarely use any of the other charts, since I'm usually most concerned about avoiding ice when planning a long cross country flight. You could select the Winds charts to examine that data, but generally I'm willing to accept whatever winds will keep me out of the ice.
Reading the Charts
When I'm planning a cross country flight, I'm generally interested in two things. The first is whether the freezing level will be sufficiently high that I can get out of the San Francisco Bay Area. That's no easy task as the lowest MEA's typically require a climb to 5,000 feet when flying north or east, and 7,000 feet when departing to the south. While the weather is often spectacular here, it's not unusual for temperatures in the winter months to reduce freezing level to these altitudes or lower.
The next thing I'm generally interested in is whether it's possible to fly a northerly or southerly route to cross over the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountain ranges. A path directly east results in fairly high MEA's, which is why one generally needs to head north or south to cross at lower altitudes. The GFS charts have done a reasonably good job at helping me anticipate 5-7 days in advance which route is most likely to work.
Here is a chart for a trip that I planned and flew in December from Palo Alto, CA with a destination of Toronto (though we actually stopped short of there because of mechanical problems). Note that it's for the 700 mb level, and is looking out 36 hours (although I started looking at these charts a week in advance, this is one of the few that I saved). Typically when you're within 0 to 48 hours of departure, you'll no longer want to rely on these charts but use other aviation sources instead.
According to my friend Scott Dennstaedt (who I highly recommend if you ever need a weather consultation prior to a trip), the GFS charts have a resolution of 55 km, which is about 35 miles. GFS models the atmosphere using 60 different layers, of which this is one. Like all computer models, there are biases in the data, and scientists are constantly updating them so that they more closely match the real world. Hence, you must take all of these with a grain of salt. Do NOT rely upon them as your sole source of weather information.
The first thing I look for is the thick blue line, which is the zero degree isotherm, or the location of the freezing level when flying at approximately 10,000 feet. In this case the blue line runs from the Oregon/California border, south through most of California and then begins moving east across Baja and northern Mexico, before crossing back into western Texas. From there it moves through the midwest, before crossing the Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
When flying at 10,000 feet, temperature north of the blue line are forecast to be below freezing, while south of the line they should be above freezing. Dark blue dashed lines to the north indicate negative isotherms in 5° increments. For example, you can see that the -10°C isotherm passes through and just north of the Great Lakes. The red/orange lines to the south are isotherms representing temperatures above freezing in 5 degree increments. So the temperature over Georgia at 700 mb is +5 degrees Celsius.
To quote a recent email from Scott Dennstaedt, "The green solid colors are the relative humidity in percent using the legend at the lower right. Any green has the potential for saturated conditions. The higher the percentage, the more likely you will be to see clouds at 700 mb. If the temperatures are below 0 degrees Celsius, then the potential for super cooled liquid water exists."
When flight planning, I choose a route which avoids any green located north of the Blue line. In this case that meant I'd be crossing the U.S. along a northern route. As you can see, significant clouds were forecast for southern CA, AZ, NM and west Texas, and most of these clouds were north of the blue line. That meant that at 10,000 feet, we could expect to pick up ice if we flew a southern route. Instead, we planned a route that took us from the San Francisco bay area, north to Redmond for an overnight stop and then east toward Toronto.
In some cases, you may be able to fly in green areas north of the blue line if the temperatures are really cold. For example, ice is rare--though still possible--in stratus clouds colder than -20° and in cumulus clouds colder than -30°C. The issue of course is how to get in and out of those cold clouds without accumulating ice while climbing or descending from that level. Thus if you contemplate flying in cold clouds, you'll need a fool proof strategy for getting to and from them without accumulating ice.
Just to close out the discussion of these charts, lets talk about the black lines. First, recall that a constant pressure surface, such as the 700 mb surface shown here, varies with MSL height. Quoting Scott's email again, "the black lines are isohypses or lines of constant geopotential height (pilots refer to this as mean sea level). It is presented in decameters (dm). Essentially, the height of the 700 mb surface varies over this chart while the pressure remains constant."
Hopefully this gives you one more tool in your arsenal for avoiding icing. Don't rely on just this tool. Use all of the tools available, including the icing products available at www.aviationweather.gov, AIRMETs for icing, pilot reports, briefings from flight service stations, and in-flight weather from Flight Watch at 122.0. By the way, I enjoyed Richard Collins recent article in Flying magazine in which he said that he now flight plans by flying from one H (high pressure area) to another on the weather chart. I like that strategy. Have fun flying and don't become an ice cube!
You Too can YouTube
WAAS video now available for viewing on YouTube.com
If you thing that "YouTube" refers to sliding down a snowy hill in an inner tube, than clearly you haven't been keeping up with changes in the internet world. YouTube.com is a popular website that let's anyone upload short videos for sharing and viewing over the internet.
We recently joined the world of YouTubers by uploading the opening video from our Max Trescott's WAAS and GPS CD-ROM Course. You can view it now by clicking on the image above.
WAAS is the Wide Area Augmentation System which is used to enhance the accuracy of GPS, allowing instruments approaches to be flown with ILS like precision to altitudes as close as 200 feet to the ground. Many older Garmin 430 and 530's have been upgraded to "W" versions and can now be used to fly WAAS approaches with names like LPV, LNAV/VNAV and LNAV. The video shows a pilot using a Garmin 530W to fly an LPV approach, with a glide slope provided by GPS satellites, to a small airport at Tracy, CA.
The beauty of WAAS is that it lets approaches with ILS like precision to be created for virtually any airport in the U.S. and Canada for just the cost of charting the approach. This is much less expensive than the $1 million dollars required to install an ILS and the $100,000 per year required to maintain an ILS. If after viewing the movie you want to learn more about WAAS, you can order the course online or call 800-247-6553 to order.
Recent posts from Max Trescott on General Aviation blog
Clancy Prevost, CFI, American Hero
There's hardly a person in America that doesn't know that on 9/11, Flight 93 didn't achieve its target of crashing into the White House or the Capitol. Instead, a group of brave passengers seized the moment and took destiny into their own hands. These brave people altered the course of history and kept a national tragedy from becoming worse. As a nation, we're indebted to them doing what they felt was right.
Clancy Prevost, Flight Instructor, is the American Hero who gave the passengers a critical advantage. Instead of 5 hijackers, only 4 were on board, since Clancy warned his superiors, who eventually called the FBI, that the "20th hijacker" assigned to him for training didn't fit any reasonable profile for a person training in a 747 simulator. Clancy spoke up and persisted, even when his supervisors felt that it might be better to just keep the cash and give the training. Hopefully there's a little Clancy in all of us, and when we see something that's not right, we'll speak up and persist, even in the face of others who seek to avoid controversy and look the other way.
If you think Clancy's the product of small town American values, you're right. Coincidentally, I can tell you in detail about the town and the values that influenced a man like Clancy Prevost. After all, we grew up two blocks from each other.
You can read the rest of this post at Max Trescott on General Aviation blog
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General Aviation Needs an Aggressive Safety Goal
It's time for the FAA to set an aggressive goal, comparable to the ones they set for airliners, for reducing the general aviation fatal accident rate. Without one, senseless accidents will continue, needless lives will be lost, and potential new pilots will be scared away.
The general aviation safety record has improved over the years due to the leadership and collaborative efforts of the FAA, the AOPA Air Safety Foundation (ASF) and other organizations, and more can be done. From 1997 through 2006, the fatal accident rate declined from 1.36 to 1.26 accidents per 100,000 hours flown, a 7.4% decrease per the ASF's 2007 Nall Report, an authoritative summary of GA accident data. The number of fatal general aviation accidents declined by 5% in 2007, though this figure is directly affected by year-to-year variations in the number of hours flown. Historically, much of the decline in the number of fatal accidents is directly attributable to...
You can read the rest of this post at Max Trescott on General Aviation blog
Beyond the Buttons
Mastering Our Marvelous Flying Machines
That's the title of an article that I'd like to commend to you for your consideration. It was originally published in the March/April 2007 issue of FAA Aviation News and it starts on page 10 of the magazine (which is page 12 of the pdf file). It was written by Susan Parson, who is a special assistant in the FAA's GA and Commercial division in Washington, D.C.
Just a quick word about Susan. I met her a few years ago at Oshkosh, where she was giving a dynamite presentation on Personal Minimums. Not only is she a NAFI Master CFI, but she's a "double Master" in that she's one of 18 people in the world that simultaneously hold Master Flight Instructor and Master Ground Instructor designations (full disclosure: I'm one of the other 18 and she is a good friend). Not content to think flying all week and late at night (based upon when I receive emails from her), she spends her weekends as a CFI training Civil Air Patrol pilots on flying their G1000-equipped Cessnas.
In Mastering Our Marvelous Flying Machines, Susan provides a framework for organizing your approach to learning and managing glass cockpit aircraft. In her examples, she refers to the Garmin G1000. She summarizes what it takes to fly one of these aircraft when she says that you'll need "mental mastery of three key flight management skills: information management, automation management, and risk management," and then goes into detail on each of these.
While discussing risk management she says: "At the same time, there is some risk that lighter workloads could lead to the cliché of “fat-dumb-and-happy” complacency. Just remember that any glass cockpit pilot tempted to relax into a passenger-in-command role is likely to find some very sharp corners in all this cutting edge technology. As with any piece of glass, you must always handle it with care." That reminds me of an email that I sent yesterday to Meg Godlewski (full disclosure: she's another of the 18!) at General Aviation News. In it, I said:
"I think it’s important to let people know that there have been a number of TAA [Technically Advanced Aircraft] accidents, and all seem to be related to the same accident causes for round gauge airplanes. These include weather, such as icing and skud running, descending into terrain at night, and maneuvering, such as flying too close to the ground. So far, Glass Cockpit pilots haven’t found any new, innovative ways to meet their demise. Candidly, I’m optimistic that the accident rate in glass cockpit aircraft will be lower, due to the autopilots that free pilots to spend more time on risk management, and due to traffic, and terrain awareness systems."
I strongly encourage you to read FAA Aviation News, as it's a constant source of great safety oriented information. You can find back issues for the last three years of FAA Aviation News online and they include a number of Susan's other great articles. You can also order the print edition of the magazine for $21 per year.
Personal Minimums You Should Consider
Three Recent Accidents that Exceeded Minimums You May Want to Use
Personal Minimums is a great concept that's taught to most new pilots today. We've talked about it before, and you may be familiar with the Personal Minimums Checklist developed by the FAA. If you got your license more than ten years ago, however, you might not have been taught this concept, in which case I heartily encourage you to read about it and embrace it as part of your flying routine. Candidly, I feel that every Private checkride should include a discussion of Personal Minimums, and I plan to advocate that to my new friends in the FAA in Oklahoma City when the Private PTS comes up for review again later this year.
Personal Minimums refers to choosing minimums standards that you decide never to exceed when planning and executing a flight. Personal Minimums can relate to ANY aspect of flight that you deem important, so be creative in your thinking about what minimums you adopt to guide your flying. The FAA created a framework for organizing Personal Minimums called PAVE, which stands for minimums related to the Pilot, Aircraft, enVironment, and External factors. So for example, under Pilot, you might set minimums for the number of hours of sleep that you'll require before a flight, or minimums regarding illness or stressful events.
Personal minimums should be thoughtfully considered ahead of time, while relaxing in your favorite chair at home. That way you can fully think through scenarios and decide what standards you want to apply for making Go/No Go decisions prior to flight, and deviations from your plan during a flight. Waiting until in flight to make decisions about personal minimums may result may be too late or result in poor choices. Three accidents in November got me thinking again about personal minimums, as all seemed preventable if only the pilot had applied some conventional, or in one case unconventional, personal minimums.
In the Environment section of the FAA's Personal Minimums Checklist, you find categories that relate to Airport Conditions, Weather, Weather for VFR and Weather for IFR. The latter two are among the most common personal minimums that pilots set for themselves, and for good reason. Legally we can conduct VFR flight in Class B, C, D, & E with as little as 3 mile visibility, and in some Class G airspace with as little as 1 mile visibility. While this may be legal, it may not be safe in all circumstances. Just as you don't want to brag to your friends that you got your pilot's certificate by passing the FAA's minimum standards (which is in fact what you did), you may not want to fly at close to the legal minimums. Thus you might reasonably chose not to fly when visibilities are less than, for example, 6 miles. That may be prudent, since conditions can change rapidly.
For IFR, you might choose the minimum ceiling and visibility that you'll require for flying a precision approach, and separate minimums that you'll require of yourself for flying non-precision approaches. One category you may have given much thought to is IFR takeoff minimums. While pursuing an instrument rating, you hopefully learned that airlines require a minimum visibility of 1 mile for takeoff, or 1/2 mile if they have more than two engines. Regrettably, you may have also learned that as a Private pilot flying under Part 91, there are no required takeoff minimums and that you can legally takeoff off in zero-zero weather. Having done this once (and for the last time), I can tell you that while it's legal to do so, it's neither fun nor particularly a smart idea, since it leaves no margin for error. Two pilots in November, however, didn't think that taking off IFR in low visibility would be a problem. Unfortunately, neither is around to see the error in their ways.
On November 6, a King Air A100 departed the Chino, CA airport at 9:18AM and impacted trees about 3/4 mile from the departure end of the runway. The accident report states that "Chino airport recorded the following weather conditions at the time of the accident: winds were calm; visibility was 1/4 mile in fog; the vertical visibility was 100 feet; both the temperature and dew point were 11 degrees Celsius." Both pilot and passenger were killed. While not quite zero-weather, it's much less than the 1 mile visibility and airline would have required to make this departure in a similar aircraft.
Two weeks later to the day, this accident repeated itself at the Binghamton, NY airport. On November 20, 2007 at 4:59 PM, a Mooney M20K was destroyed an its pilot killed after it departed on an IFR flight plan. According to the accident report, the airplane "was issued a clearance for takeoff, and after departure was issued a frequency change, which was acknowledged by the pilot. The pilot was never heard to check in on the new frequency, and no distress call was received from the pilot." The aircraft came to rest "4,549 feet north-northeast of the departure end of runway 34, and 199 feet in elevation below it." A photo of a portion of the debris field is shown above. The pilot had 1,500 hours total time, according to 3rd class medical, which was issued two months before. A weather observation taken about 6 minutes before the accident, included; wind at 280 degrees at 3 knots, visibility 1/4 mile in fog, ceiling indefinite at 100 feet, temperature 6 degrees Celsius (C), dew point 6 degrees C.
Both accidents are classic examples of somatogravic illusion, in which acceleration causes fluids in a pilot's ears to move in a way that results in a pitching back sensation. This gives a pilot the false illusion that he's climbing when in fact he's flying straight and level or descending. Generally, somatogravic illusion accidents occur within 1 mile of the departure end of the runway.
Note that somatogravic illusion can occur during any takeoff, but when in visual conditions, pilots see that they're not climbing and they correct automatically without knowing why they were flying straight and level. In zero visibility however, pilots don't have the same visual feedback, and hence must rely on the instrument indications, even when they contradict the pilot's false sensation of climbing. As you can see, while it's legal to takeoff in zero visibility, it carries a number of potential pitfalls and is not recommended.
Another accident less than 9 hours later and also in New York state highlights the need for pilots to consider unconventional minimums that they won't find on the FAA's Personal Minimums checklist. The owner of the Cirrus SR20 departed Wings field near Philadelphia at about 4PM and flew two hours to Lynchburg, Virginia, where he met his son. At 10:50PM, the aircraft departed Lynchburg with his son and son's college friend to fly nearly 3 hours to the Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, New York. The flight track from www.flightaware.com for this second leg is shown in the image at the left.
According to the accident report, "the pilot attempted an instrument landing system (ILS) approach to runway 9, a 11,818-foot-long, 150-foot-wide, asphalt runway, which resulted in a missed approach. The pilot was subsequently directed by air traffic control for a second ILS approach to runway 9, and the airplane was cleared to land when it was about 9 miles from the runway. The pilot acknowledged the landing clearance; however, there were no further communications from the airplane. Preliminary radar data revealed that the airplane was drifting right of the extended runway centerline as it descended toward the runway. The airplane's radar target descended approximately from 1600 feet to 700 feet, and its ground speed slowed from 142 knots to 102 knots during the minute before radar contact was lost at 0144:49." Again, this accident was fatal for all occupants.
You'll note that this aircraft crashed at 1:45 AM in the morning. From the data on www.flightaware.com for N108GD, it can be seen that the IFR flight plan was originally filed for a 10 PM departure, which would have resulted in a 12:52AM arrival at Stewart. Everything in aviation seems to take longer than expected, so it's not a surprise that this aircraft departed nearly an hour late. We can imagine that after arriving in Lynchburg at 6PM, the pilot went to dinner with his son and was late arriving back at the airport.
Regardless of the circumstances, one must consider how sharp their pilot skills will be at almost 2 AM in the morning. Natural circadian rhythms may have led the pilot to alternate between being tired and being heavily fatigued during the flight. Listening to the engine drone on for 3 hours while still digesting dinner couldn't have helped.
Last month, I had the honor of teaching my Night Flying seminar to a group of 60 CFI's attending one of Air Safety Foundation's Flight Instructor Renewal Clinics in Milpitas, CA. Having thought about this particular accident, I asked the group while discussing Personal Minimums how many of them had a personal minimum for how late they were willing to fly. Not a single hand was raised. Candidly, I think that's a problem. We all get tired after a long day, and if anyone should recognize this and decide to do something about it, it's a CFI. I recently decided that my personal minimums for night flying is 11 PM. If I can't plan to be on the ground by that time, I don't want to do the flight.
A client of mine recently told me that his personal minimum for flying is that if he has to do more than 10 hours of work and/or flying, that he'll bring along another pilot, usually a CFI, for the trip. That makes inherent sense to me. Why fly single pilot at the end of a long day when your tired, particularly when the most challenging part of the flight--the landing--will be when you're most tired.
A CFI who took me for a mentor flight after I got my CFI told me that his personal minimums for night flight were that there be at least a quarter moon. At the time, I remember thinking "what a chicken." Now, having analyzed night accident data and learned that 90% of fatal accidents occur in "dark night" conditions when there is no moon or it's obscured by clouds, I realize the wisdom of his personal minimum. I'm also now proud to call myself a chicken, as I don't see any point in taking on unneeded risk. Please take the time to set both conventional and unconventional personal miminums for yourself and then live by them. It certainly beats the alternative.
February 21 7:30PM AOPA Pilot Town Meeting, Sacramento, CA
February 27 7:30PM Max Trescott - Night Flying Safety - What Your CFI Forgot to Tell You EAA, John Glenn Drive, Concord, CA
March 13 3:00PM Max Trescott - Round Table Discussion at Women In Aviation Convention San Diego, CA
March 19 7:00PM Max Trescott - Night Flying Safety - What Your CFI Forgot to Tell You West Valley Flying Club, San Carlos, CA
April 3 7:00 PM Max Trescott - EAA 62 Chapter, Reid Hillview Airport, San Jose, CA
Pilot Safety News
© 2007 by Max Trescott
Master CFI & FAASTeam Member
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