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Vectors for Safety - December 2020

Safety Initiative Update

Webinar Today!

Please don't miss today's (Dec. 1) webinar "Birds, Bullets, Bears" featuring a guest presenter from Avemco Insurance. This rare opening of insurance claim files gives us a valuable and different perspective. Attendance at the entire event plus participation in polls may establish eligibility for one Basic Knowledge-3 and also one Advanced Knowledge-3 FAA Wings Credit. The event begins at 7:00 PM Eastern time. If not already registered, click here.

Video Available for "Holiday Travel Hazards"

The recording of our "Holiday Travel Hazards" webinar is available on our YouTube channel in case you missed the live presentation. Click here to watch.

Runway Overruns

The daily ASIAS report seems to indicate an increase in runway overruns for all flavors and sizes of airplanes. Apparently, the same trend is being seen in Canada. The Canadian Transportation Safety Board (TSB) has placed runway overruns on its "Watchlist 2020" which was released on Oct. 29. This is disturbing since most of the US has not yet seen runways contaminated with snow or ice. This subject probably warrants a special presentation, but for now let's make sure that we do our planning to make sure the runway is sufficient, set a point at which we will go around if not on the ground when we pass it, and maybe most important, make sure we are proficient in the go-around. A runway overrun is seldom fatal, but a stall during a go-around is frequently fatal.

Sometimes It's the Little Things Part 3 Available

Last two months we featured the first two parts of a three-part series called, "Sometimes It's the Little Things." We have completed and posted Part 3 of that series on our YouTube channel.

Would You Like a Live Presentation for Your Group?

In the December Mid-Month Update, I offered to do a few free virtual safety presentations to small groups of pilots. This has been made possible by the generosity of our donors. The offer was well received and we have five presentations scheduled for December and one for January so far. If you have a flying club, pilots association, flight school, FBO, or similar group and would like to have a free virtual safety presentation, please let us know. We have a variety of topics to choose from and most are pre-approved for Wings credit. With a small group (up to 50 attendees) we can include live discussion with open mics. We will set up the event and provide you with a unique registration link that you can share with your invitees. If interested, please contact To see some of the presentations available, download our Presentation Catalog.

Pilots and Passengers

We know that we are required to provide our passengers with a safety briefing before flight. We should include something about interference with flight controls in that briefing. A passenger not familiar with small, general aviation airplanes might not be aware of rudder pedals. A passenger in a car does not need to be concerned with where they place their feet. But a foot inadvertently pressing on a rudder pedal during takeoff or landing can present a problem. An accident analysis below illustrates what can happen.

Accident Analysis

Not the accident airplane

This accident did not result in injury to the pilot or to the passenger, but it did cause substantial damage to the airplane. It happened in Pennsylvania in 2014 and involved a Rans S 6S.

The NTSB accident report includes the following, "The pilot stated that just after takeoff, the airplane entered "uncoordinated flight to the left." He applied right rudder to correct, but felt that the rudder was ineffective. After clearing trees at the end of the runway, the pilot elected to conduct a precautionary landing in a field. He stated that the airplane's rate of descent was "high," and that the nose landing gear collapsed upon touchdown. The airplane subsequently nosed over and came to rest inverted. Postaccident examination revealed substantial damage to the engine firewall, both wings, and the vertical stabilizer. Examination of the rudder controls revealed no anomalies. According to the pilot, his passenger was "apprehensive" about the flight, and inadvertently applied pressure to the left rudder pedal with his foot throughout the takeoff and accident sequence."

Not the accident airplane but representative of the rudder pedal configuration

The NTSB probable cause states, "The passenger's inadvertent interference with the rudder controls during the takeoff."

It is important to make sure that our passenger safety briefing includes instructions to avoid interference with all flight controls, including the rudder pedals.

Gene's Blog

Engine Out!

As I read general aviation accident reports I realize that I have lived a charmed life, at least in respect to my flying. In my more than 50 years of flying consisting of more than 15,000 flight hours, I have never experienced either a complete or partial power loss. I once did a precautionary shut down of an engine in a Piper Navajo because of an oil pressure issue, but that is much different from an unexpected power loss.

The daily ASIAS listings of aircraft accidents and incidents is rarely without either a crash or an off airport landing due to a loss of engine power. Completed accident investigations reveal a variety of reasons for the loss of engine power. Many people use the term, “engine failure” but that does not always an accurate description of the cause. Sometimes there is found to be a mechanical failure within the engine or one of its subsystems. But fuel exhaustion, fuel management, misaligned fuel selector, fuel contamination, carburetor ice, or some other cause are more common.

Most of these power loss events are shown to have been preventable, usually easily preventable. We must take responsibility to prevent power loss by taking precautions such as insisting on good aircraft maintenance, understanding the systems on our airplanes, using our checklists, doing thorough preflight planning, performing good preflight inspections, and more. But systems fail and we humans will still make errors so there is no way to guarantee that we will not experience a power loss. Therefore, we can take some steps to prepare ourselves for the event that we hope will never happen.

I want to begin by saying that this subject could easily fill a textbook and that I have no illusion that I can adequately address it here. My intent is to raise awareness and hopefully encourage further study on the subject.

I want to focus mainly on the complete and sudden power loss, but the partial power loss can perhaps be more deadly. Pilots have become distracted while dealing with a partial power loss and have lost control of the airplane. We must remember that our primary job is to fly the airplane. Trying to restore full power is an important, but secondary job. Partial power loss is frequently a precursor to complete power loss, so if there is an airport nearby, it is advisable to get on the ground. If there is no airport nearby and the problem cannot be quickly remedied, my recommendation is to head toward the nearest suitable airport while evaluating possible landing sites along the way. Of course, every situation is different with many variables such as how much power is remaining, altitude, flight condition, terrain, and more. There is no single correct procedure that will suit all circumstances.

So, let’s talk about the complete and sudden power loss. The first consideration is whether we have one or two engines. Two is better than one, right? Maybe. A multiengine airplane flown by a multiengine rated pilot who undergoes formal recurrent training that includes engine out procedures is perhaps less likely to have a serious accident following a complete loss of engine power on one engine. But the multiengine pilot who has not had recent training on engine out procedures, either in the airplane or in a simulator, is dangerous. A few seconds of delayed response or an incorrect response can be fatal. Reliance on recalling procedures learned during a multiengine training program three or more years ago is not going to lead to a happy ending. As an aside and as evidence in how lax regulations are, taking a flight review in a Cessna 150 qualifies the pilot to act as pilot-in-command of all aircraft in which he or she is rated. There is absolutely no regulatory requirement, under Part 91, for a pilot to ever practice engine out procedures again in a multiengine airplane once the multiengine rating has been earned.

We will now limit our discussion of complete and sudden power loss to the single engine airplane. If we only have one engine and it ceases to produce power, what should we do? Of course, there will be exceptions to the following guidelines dictated by terrain, weather, or other circumstances. But our foremost responsibility is to maintain control of the airplane.

If power is lost shortly after takeoff, our viable options are extremely limited. Our initial reaction, the adult version of assuming the fetal position, is a strong desire to return to the airport. There may be scenarios in which this is possible, but such attempts very rarely have a good ending. The overwhelming best action is to land straight ahead, or at least as closely as possible to straight ahead. We should not fly into the large oak tree if a ten-degree turn will allow us to land in low brush. Attempts to return to the departure airport have been nicknamed “The Deadly Turn.” We should note that the danger in the “Deadly Turn” is the increased likelihood of an aerodynamic stall during the turn. EAA recently produced an excellent webinar on this subject. Click here to view it in a new window.

More altitude provides us with more options. A power loss a little later during the initial climb provides more options. Airports are preferred to other choices. If our direction of flight caused us to execute a turn after takeoff, perhaps our departure airport is a viable choice for our landing. If we have already executed a 180-degree turn, we might be in good position to land on a runway. If no airport is reasonably available, we will look for an open area and consider wind direction. Our groundspeed will determine how much energy the airplane has upon touchdown so landing into the wind is highly desirable. But making a turn at low altitude to align with the wind is not ideal. What if there are no open areas? Should we attempt a landing on a road? Are there wires across the road? How much traffic is on the road? There are many variables to consider and our brain may not be capable of sorting them all out and producing the best option before we reach the ground.

A little study and planning before our takeoff can pay huge dividends if we experience a power loss after takeoff. A look at the sectional chart and Google Earth can give us a good idea on what is in the vicinity of the airport. The Google Earth image might not be up to date, but generally we can see what is in the airport vicinity. We can treat it like a space launch. If we must abort here, we will land at X but if we make it to here and need to abort, we will land at Y.

A power loss at altitude provides us with many more options for a landing. The higher we are, the wider our target area and the more likely we will be in gliding range of an airport. However, a serious mistake is to overestimate our possible glide distance. Almost making it to an airport and then needing to find an off-airport site may greatly reduce our chance of finding a suitable location. A nice grassy field five miles from an airport is probably a better option than the industrial parking lot a half-mile from the airport.

Our goal in any power loss situation is to ensure the survival of and to minimize injuries to the airplane occupants. Once the engine stops producing power, we must mentally transfer ownership of the airplane to the insurance company. Saving the airplane is secondary to the well-being of ourselves and our passengers. Of course, we also want to avoid injury to anyone on the ground. Securing the airplane for the forced landing is probably addressed in a checklist and will be different for various makes and models. The one thing that may not be on that checklist is to ensure that everyone has their seatbelt and shoulder harness fastened and snug. Also, make sure that all occupied seats are fully upright.

Since this is an article and not a textbook, there are plenty of things related to power loss that we have not discussed. What if we are solid IFR? What if it is night? What about attempting a restart? My best advice is to study the procedures for the airplanes you fly and think through scenarios for engine failure during various phases of flight. A refresher with a flight instructor can also be valuable. Too many flight reviews just include the obligatory closing of the throttle, selecting a suitable field for a landing, and then having power restored with a commendation for a good choice of landing site. Demand more.

Accident Analysis

Accidents discussed in this section are presented in the hope that pilots can learn from the misfortune of others and perhaps avoid an accident. It is easy to read an accident report and dismiss the cause as carelessness or as a dumb mistake. But let's remember that the accident pilot did not get up in the morning and say, "Gee, I think I'll go have an accident today." Nearly all pilots believe that they are safe. Honest introspection frequently reveals that on some occasion, we might have traveled down that same accident path.


Photo Source: NTSB

This tragic accident happened at Selkirk, New York in September of 2014. The flight instructor and the sport pilot training to become a private pilot were killed in the crash. The NTSB accident report contains the following: "Witnesses reported that, during takeoff, the airplane became airborne about 3/4 of the way down the 2,853-ft runway, and, when it was about 100 ft. above the ground, the witnesses heard the engine lose power and subsequently regain it. One witness then heard the engine run "rough" and saw the airplane bank to the right and descend behind a treeline and out of view. Examination of the accident site indicated that the airplane impacted the side of a railcar parked on tracks beyond the end of the runway. The propeller blades displayed some leading edge damage and chordwise gouging, consistent with the engine producing partial power at the time of impact." The investigation did not determine a cause of the power loss. A miss-positioned fuel selector and carburetor ice were each listed as a possibility.

The NTSB probable cause finding states: "A loss of engine power for reasons that could not be determined because postaccident examination of the airframe and engine did not reveal any anomalies that would have precluded normal operation."


Graphic Source: NTSB

As pilots, we accept the fact that our machines can sometimes fail us and that we can sometimes fail our machines. Though we take steps to reduce the probability of that happening, we must recognize that we can never reduce the probability to zero.

Takeoff planning should include a strategy regarding what to do in the event of power loss shortly after takeoff. Looking at the graphic shown above, we can see a large grassy area just slightly to the left of the departure runway. Yet, witnesses reported seeing the airplane bank to the right and descend behind the tree line. Could this have been a simple off-airport landing with minimal or no damage to the airplane if a takeoff briefing had been conducted with a statement that an emergency landing would be executed in the area slightly left of the runway end? We will not know the answer to that or to why the airplane banked right. But let's resolve to always formulate a plan for an emergency right after takeoff and brief it verbally, if only to ourselves.

Accidents discussed in this section are presented in the hope that pilots can learn from the misfortune of others and perhaps avoid an accident. It is easy to read an accident report and dismiss the cause as carelessness or as a dumb mistake. But let's remember that the accident pilot did not get up in the morning and say, "Gee, I think I'll go have an accident today." Nearly all pilots believe that they are safe. Honest introspection frequently reveals that on some occasion, we might have traveled down that same accident path.

Photo Source: NTSB

In March of 2013, a Maule M5 crashed in Woodinville, Washington. This crash, which cost the life of the pilot and caused serious injuries to the passenger could have been even worse. The airplane impacted a house that was occupied by two teenagers. Fortunately, neither of the teens was injured.

The NTSB determined that the crash followed a power loss which was caused by water contamination in the fuel. The NTSB reports that the airplane had not flown in 102 days since the accident flight and that it had been tied down outside during that time.

The NTSB probable cause states: "The pilot's failure to maintain adequate airspeed following a total loss of engine power due to fuel contamination, which resulted in a stall/spin and subsequent impact with terrain."

Our topic here is not on preventing power loss, but on dealing with if it happens. This crash reminds us that we must make flying the airplane our first priority.

Graphic Source: NTSB

The above view of the accident location reveals some open space and roads which might have produced a better outcome. Stalling the airplane and spinning into an occupied residence is probably the least desirable outcome.

The private pilot had more than 900 flight hours, a valid FAA Medical Certificate, and a valid flight review. The NTSB report indicates that there is no evidence that the pilot had flown at all during the 102 days of the airplane's inactivity. He was therefore likely to be out of recent experience requirements to carry a passenger but was legal to operate as pilot-in-command. This is a reminder that being legal does not necessarily mean that we are safe. How much emphasis was placed on power loss and forced landings during the flight review? Had the pilot recently or ever received training involving stalls while turning? We do not know the answers to those questions, but let's ask those same questions to ourselves regarding our own proficiency.

Safety Initiative Support

There are many costs associated with the operation of our Safety Initiative. Those costs include a webinar subscription, website hosting, commercial email service, software subscriptions, and more. We want to thank our readers who have made financial contributions to help defray expenses and we also especially thank those of you who have set up a monthly contribution through PayPal. We want to thank and applaud Avemco Insurance for their support of the FAASTeam and also for their sponsorship of our recent Pilot Talk webinar series which will continue into 2021.

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