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Vectors For Safety - October 2022

Safety Initiative Update


To Tom Turner for his assist. I reached out to him for his thoughts regarding a current project of mine that involves incidents related to recent maintenance on aircraft. He generously added a note to this September 8 issue of Flying Lessons asking his readers to share their stories with me. I received numerous emails that added valuable information and insight to my research. If you do not already subscribe, I recommend that you check out Tom's Mastery Flight Training from which you can subscribe to his weekly "Flying Lessons."

And of course, if any of my readers have a personal experience regarding an airplane having a problem related to maintenance being performed on it, I would greatly appreciate hearing about it via email.

Check it if You Can!

As mentioned above, there appears to be an upward trend in reports of airplanes being released for flight after maintenance with serious errors or omissions on the part of the maintenance provider. Technicians are subject to human error like everyone else, so we must be extra vigilant in our preflight inspection and all of our checklists prior to that first flight out of the shop. There are things that we, as pilots, cannot check such as proper torque on internal engine components. But there are many things that we can check, such as looking for foreign objects in air inlets, controls connected in reverse, etc. I am completing a project aimed providing tips for pilots on detecting maintenance related issues before making that first flight. Stay tuned. In the meanwhile, check out "Advanced Preflight After Maintenance" from the FAA.

Sara Update!

Granddaughter Sara continues her ascent toward a professional pilot career. She earned her Commercial Pilot Certificate in mid-September. Having passed both knowledge exams required for her CFI, she is now working on earning that certificate. (Grandpa is proud, but don't tell her.)

View it!

Our video that is. We are into autumn and many pilots may be considering some aerial sightseeing. Why not view our Avemco sponsored video "Autumn Scenery Safety" for some helpful tips to make your scenic flights safer and more enjoyable?

Don't Do It!

Have a runway excursion that is. Multiple runway excursions are being reported daily in the U.S. Nearly all of these are preventable. Yes, most result in airplane damage only with few injuries, but the repair costs are substantial, with or without insurance. And maybe even more important is the significant down time on the airplane due to a shortage of parts and a backup in many shops due to a shortage of qualified technicians. I created a brief YouTube video that hits the main points in avoiding the runway excursion. Check out "Avoiding the Runway Excursion in Under Five Minutes."

Avemco Insurance sponsors Gene Benson
Gene's Blog

Tailwinds - Friend and Foe

It is truly a great feeling on that long cross-country flight to note that our groundspeed is 25 knots faster than our airspeed. Tailwinds are great until they are not. Of course, that is when we are taking off or landing. Then they move along the spectrum from great, down through okay, and on to dangerous.

The obvious reason for the problem is the same as the reason for the benefit at cruise, the increase in groundspeed. We know that the airplane flies according to airspeed. On the takeoff, the tailwind requires us to reach a higher groundspeed to achieve the airspeed needed to become airborne. That translates to more runway needed to become airborne and more distance needed to clear obstacles due to the decreased climb angle. I suspect the visual cues regarding speed may also play a part. Pilots who fly the same airplane or same type airplane become accustomed to the sight picture which includes motion. This may cause the pilot to attempt to lift the airplane off the runway before a safe flying airspeed has been attained.

On the landing, the increased groundspeed moves us farther down the runway after clearing obstacles and may cause the pilot to increase the rate of descent and not maintain a stabilized approach. Again, the pilot’s sight picture might become a factor. A tailwind increasing the groundspeed can cause the pilot to incorrectly believe that the airplane needs to be slowed down while on approach. If the airspeed is reduced to accommodate the perception, the sink rate may increase or the airplane may approach the stall speed, again resulting in an unstabilized approach. An unstabilized approach is the leading cause of landing accidents.

Once we are on the ground, we will need more distance to stop the airplane because more energy must be dissipated by the brakes, slowing the rotation of the main landing gear wheels. The kinetic energy formula requires the velocity to be squared so even a few extra knots of groundspeed at touchdown will add substantial energy which must be dissipated. A typical, small GA airplane that has a landing weight of 2,200 pounds and usually lands at 50 knots will require 21% more energy to be dissipated if it touches down at 55 knots. If the touchdown is at 60 knots, 45% more energy will need to be dissipated than if the touchdown occurred at 50 knots. We cannot directly apply that to how much the stopping distance will be increased because the braking technique, runway surface, and condition of brakes and tires all play a part. Of course, if a tailwind caused the airplane to touchdown faster, the tailwind is likely still present and contributing to increased stopping distance.

Heavy braking can offer a new set of problems if pilots are accustomed to the antilock systems in nearly all cars and trucks on the road. Those systems recommend firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal which allows the antilock system to pulsate as necessary to prevent the wheels from locking up. Most small GA airplanes are not equipped with antilock brakes. The wheels can be locked up easily causing one or both tires to skid. This is a perfect set up for a runway excursion, either off the end or side of the runway.

My advice is to avoid taking off or landing with a tailwind, whenever possible, regardless of its velocity. If it cannot be avoided, be aware of the increased risks and alert to the pitfalls, including the change in the sight picture. I recommend adding a maximum tailwind component to the personal minimums checklist. How much that is, depends on the pilot’s comfort level, but mine is five knots for a small GA airplane. Any more than that and I am simply not willing to take the risk.

broken image

I encourage all pilots to subscribe to the "NASA CALLBACK" publication. I never miss reading an issue because it often provides a look at a situation which could have been an accident, but worked out successfully. These can help us learn from the mistakes or near-misses of others. Click here for the subscription form. It's free!

The following article is reprinted from the NASA CALLBACK PUBLICATION #491 of December 2020.

Revelation and Recovery

This C152 pilot experienced a common assortment of hazardous, hot weather factors that combined to produce an insidious, but predictable situation and potential disaster.

■ I had checked the weather, and…it was clear below 6,500 feet…with the exception of the area right around JFK, which reported…multiple layers of clouds. No worries, I thought.… For some reason, I felt a huge pressure to make this flight. I wanted to see the mechanic scheduled to do our annual [inspection] in a few weeks.… Whatever the urgency, I soon would reverse my position on how important it really was. Shortly after departing ZZZ, I called for flight following and requested 4,500 feet.… The Controller, however, instructed me to turn direct to Kennedy (JFK) and climb to 6,500 feet. I should have simply replied ‘unable,’ as I know the weather was sketchy toward Kennedy, but for some unexplainable reason, I complied. Soon, I was struggling to maintain VMC.… The Controller was quite busy, and I was also quite busy trying to stay in legal conditions and control the aircraft.

Then it all fell apart, and I was truly in unacceptable visual conditions. Trying not to panic, I used the autopilot to keep the plane under control and requested lower. ATC advised me I could not go lower and suggested I climb. I attempted to climb out of the poor visual conditions, but things only became worse. It seemed like quite a long time, probably 10 minutes, with truly inadequate visibility. Then the unthinkable happened; I became disoriented. I began to descend rapidly, airspeed increasing, and although I recognized what was happening, I could not correct the situation without adequate visual cues. It was a life changing event. It could happen to me after all! I had never come close to losing control of my aircraft before. I am usually very conservative…with my flight planning and in controlling ‘get-there-itis,’ and yet, here I was endangering myself and probably others. I was furious and ashamed of myself (and scared too). I came out of the clouds around 2,400 feet and brought the wings level and slowly pulled back. ATC admonished me, and I told him, “I became disoriented.” He said, “Let’s try again,” and directed me back to JFK, this time a little lower. I…was lucky enough to remain clear of clouds, and soon after, was granted lower still and proceeded direct to ZZZ1 without incident.

I did some serious thinking after this flight on how I got myself into the situation in the first place, and how I should have avoided it. I knew that below 3,000 feet there was no problem with visibility.… I learned that ATC does not have a clear picture of visibility conditions.… Visibility is purely the pilot’s responsibility. I decided…to shake off complacency and went to my first FAA Safety Team (FAAST) meeting in years. It was totally worthwhile. I clearly did not understand how compromised visibility was…that afternoon until it was too late. I will never fail to call out ‘unable’ again.

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.

This crash happened in New Jersey in April 2022. The 53-year-old, 566 hour, instrument rated private pilot received minor injuries but the Mooney 20M was substantially damaged. The pilot had a current FAA Medical Certificate and Flight Review.

The NTSB accident report includes the following, "The pilot reported that, prior to landing, he obtained weather information as specified on the instrument approach procedure chart, which was from an airport about 18 nm from the landing airport. The wind was reported as being from 350° at 7 knots, which favored runway 07. During landing, the airplane floated longer than anticipated and bounced upon touchdown. The pilot added power and elected to do a go-around maneuver; however, the airplane was unable to attain a sufficient rate of climb and impacted trees at the departure end of the runway, which resulted in substantial damage to the fuselage and right wing."

The accident report continues, "A witness stated that the weather obtained from the airport specified on the instrument approach plate did not match the conditions at the airport at the time of the accident, which included a 10-kt tailwind on runway 07. The nearest airport's weather observation system, about 7 miles from the accident airport, included wind at 310° at 11 kts gusting to 17 kts."


NTSB Photo

The NTSB Probable Cause finding states: "The pilot’s delayed go-around decision following an encounter with a tailwind during landing, which resulted in an inability to climb and subsequent impact with trees."


NTSB Photo

As shown in the graphic below taken from the Pilot-Operator-Report submitted to the NTSB, the pilot articulates his thoughtful recommendations on how this accident could have been prevented.

Excerpt from Pilot-Operator Report ERA22LA179

The pilot learned and expensive and perhaps painful lesson from this accident. The rest of us can enjoy the benefit of his lesson without the pain and expense.

The NTSB requests all accident pilots to complete the Pilot-Operator Report form which includes details on the aircraft, its maintenance, the pilot's certification and experience, the weather, the airport information, and more. This recommendation section is at the end. Unfortunately, it is frequently left blank. If more pilots would take the time to analyze the circumstances leading up to an accident as this pilot did and share their thoughts on how the accident could be avoided, we could all benefit.

Click here to download the accident report from the NTSB website.

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.

All three people aboard the Socata TB200 escaped injury when an aborted takeoff resulted in a runway excursion. The accident happened in Connecticut in August of 2020 and resulted in substantial damage to the airplane. The 26-year-old instrument rated private pilot had about 282 hours total flight time and was current regarding a medical certificate and flight review.

The NTSB accident report includes the following, "Prior to departing on the local flight, the pilot noted that the wind was calm and favoring one runway. He then back-taxied the airplane along the 2,205-ft-long runway for the departure. After initiating the takeoff roll, and nearing the mid-field point, the pilot noted that the windsock there had changed direction and that a tailwind was now present. The pilot then
realized the airplane had not gained enough airspeed and aborted the takeoff. As the airplane approached the end of the runway, the pilot turned the airplane right to avoid a road, and it continued off the runway and eventually struck trees."


NTSB Photo

The NTSB Probable Cause states, "A runway excursion following an aborted takeoff in tailwind conditions."

Variable winds can be tricky when taking off and landing. Could this pilot have been more aware of the wind conditions and anticipated the tailwind? Perhaps. Could this pilot have continued and made a successful takeoff? Perhaps. Could this pilot have recognized the problem and aborted the takeoff sooner? Perhaps. But looking at the bigger picture, all three occupants of the airplane escaped uninjured and that is really what counts. Had the pilot continued the takeoff and become airborne only to impact obstacles, the result would be much less favorable. Had the pilot delayed the decision to abort the takeoff just by few seconds, the airplane would have been travelling faster and had more kinetic energy at the point of impact, possibly causing injuries.

We always want to do our best to avoid being in a situation that requires urgent decision making. But urgent decisions frequently present only bad and not-so-bad options. I will not criticize a pilot who, when faced with an urgent decision, has everyone walking away from the crash site.


NTSB Photo

Click here to download the accident report from the NTSB website.

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.

This accident shows how just a light tailwind can cause problems for even experienced pilots. The American Aviation AA5 received substantial to the right wing during a landing attempt with a light tailwind. Two experienced, qualified, and current pilots occupied the control positions. The left seat pilot had about 966 hours and the right seat pilot had about 1,637 hours. They reported having 59.5 and 130 hours in this make and model respectively. Neither pilot was injured.

The NTSB accident report includes the following: "The pilot reported that, while en route, she diverted due to deteriorating weather at the intended destination. She added that, during landing, a second pilot in the right seat reported a right quartering crosswind and that, during the "transition to the roundout," she observed 65 knots on the airspeed gauge, she heard the stall warning horn, and the airplane developed a high sink rate. She attempted to go around, but the airplane landed hard and veered left. The airplane became airborne again, and the pilot attempted to regain the runway centerline, but the fuselage and wing struck objects on the left side of the runway. She decided a go-around was not possible, so she reduced power and landed the airplane in grass left of the runway."


NTSB Photo - Damage to aileron on right wing

The NTSB Probable Cause finding states, "The pilot's failure to maintain a proper descent rate and landing flare during landing with a tailwind, which resulted in a hard landing and a subsequent loss of directional control, runway excursion, and collision with objects."

From the pilot's statement regarding the airspeed, stall warning, and the sink rate, it would appear that the pilot was judging approach speed primarily by the sight picture, which was showing the airplane at a faster than actual airspeed due to the tailwind. This is a common theme in many landing accidents that involve tailwinds. We must remember that the airspeed is the critical element and must be maintained. If the runway and its environment are zipping by faster than normal, it might be wise to go around and reconsider the choice of landing runway.

Click here to download the accident report from the NTSB website.

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