From the February 2019 Issue

The Big Picture

The Big Picture

I t’s widely accepted that having “good situational awareness” is vital to safe and efficient flying. But what does “situational awareness” even mean? How do we develop and maintain the “good” kind? How do we fit ourselves into the big picture, and why is it important to do so? And once we understand these aspects of situational awareness, how can we use it to make things easier? On three recent flights, I feel I had a high level of situational awareness and used it to make a difference. In one I used my knowledge of my place in the big picture to help another pilot. In the second I used it to help myself. In the third I used it to eliminate a possible delay on an approach. Here’s what I’m talking about.


Current Issue

Control System Servos

At FL400, the autopilot started porpoising and was turned off. Afterward, the aircraft would not trim properly. The crew diverted; it was difficult to keep it pitched down while descending. During the final phase of flight, the yoke was very difficult to input pitch changes, but was okay in the roll axis. After landing, troubleshooting duplicated the problem. Elevator servo (p/n 4006719914) was replaced with serviceable unit.

Express Elevator Up

As the morning waned, the weather picture improved greatly, with only scattered showers and clouds over the Mojave Desert and clearing over the west side of the Tehachapi Mountains. We ended up filing to go over Victorville and into Bakersfield to visit family. Soon, we were cruising in VMC at 10,000 feet and looking at the activity over the Mojave. Ahead, there were Pireps for icing above 8000 feet, so we asked for and received routing over Edwards AFB at 6000. Based on what we saw visually and on the FAA’s flight information system (FIS-B), we thought we were well out of danger.

NTSB Reports

After flying south through the Cajon Pass at 6500 feet msl, the airplane turned west and encountered what the commercial pilot presumed was leeside turbulence from the mountain range. She turned back south to find smoother air but the turbulence became more severe and the airplane began to descend rapidly. As the airline transport pilot struggled to change frequencies in the turbulence, the airplane descended to 2000 feet msl (about 500 feet agl). The commercial pilot applied full power but the engine did not respond. After the airline transport pilot enrichened the mixture and applied carburetor heat, the engine momentarily regained power. At about 2300 feet msl, the engine again lost power, and the ATP decided to land on the westbound lanes of a freeway. As he attempted to avoid a vehicle, the airplane landed hard.

Lack Of Peer Pressure

When I was a student pilot, I was lucky to have some grizzled mentors. There were a lot of “do this” and “don’t do that” admonitions, a lot of tips regarding shortcuts and rules of thumb, plus some sage advice about decision-making. A lot of that advice could be broken down into the old “It’s better to be on the ground wishing you in the air than to be in the air wishing you were on the ground” genre, but it was often accompanied by a “Let me tell you what I learned the hard way” kind of introduction.

FAA Proposes New AD On Piper Wing Spars

The April 4, 2018, crash of a Piper PA-28R-201 Arrow V operated by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) continues to have repercussions. Most recently, the FAA has published a proposed airworthiness directive (AD) that would require inspecting each main wing spar of a wide range of Piper airplanes. The proposed AD is a response to the ERAU crash, which involved the inflight separation of the Piper Arrow’s left wing. Both aboard died and the airplane was destroyed.

Fixing Your Bounce

The primary cause of a bounced landing is flaring too high above the runway, perhaps with too much speed. In our ideal, perfect landing, the airplane will quit flying just inches above the runway. Instead, a bounce results when the flare occurs a few feet above it, and the airplane has the energy—resulting from excess altitude, excess airspeed or both—to rebound back into the air. In any event, a bounce results when the airplane isn’t finished flying.

Losing Orientation

A common night disorientation scenario is transiting from an area with many lights to empty countryside with few scattered lights (or none at all). I distinctly remember my first experience with night disorientation. I was a VFR-only pilot at the time and did not have a good instrument scan, nor much night experience, but thought I was proficient enough. I was flying from Boise to American Falls, Idaho, in a rented two-seat Alarus. The plane was painfully slow, so instead of flying over the highway, I hit the “Direct To” button on the GPS so I could fly the shortest path over the empty sagebrush back to the airport. Between the lack of lights and the moonless night, I strayed significantly off-course more than a few times. I knew my saving grace was the magenta line that I was able to keep pointed ahead.

Trim Failures

Years ago, when I first heard the term “runaway trim,” my initial thought was something along the lines of, “How can that happen?” All of the trim systems I’d seen up to that time had been manual, unassisted crank, lever or thumbwheel affairs, which rely on the pilot grabbing something and moving it to achieve the desired change. I was aware that trim systems could mechanically fail, but generally would stay in a fixed position when they did. I had discussed and trained for abnormal trim conditions, but how could a trim system “run away”? Then I learned about electric trim, autopilots and runaway trim, and it all became clearer.

Top Ten Tips For Managing Risk

Everyone talks about the weather but no one ever does anything about it.” (Stop me if you’ve heard that before.) The same could be said about managing the risk of general aviation. We—both this magazine and the industry as a whole—spend a lot of time preaching to pilots about the mechanics of understanding weather forecasts, determining if the aircraft is capable, and making honest evaluations of our own performance in considering how and when to conduct a flight. But once we identify the need to mitigate a risk, we sometimes have little space left over to describe the tools we can use. Let’s try to fix that.

Engine-Failure Risks

It fascinates me that many GA pilots of single-engine airplanes cruise at such low altitudes. They’re apparently oblivious to the fact that they are flying behind a single engine and if it fails you are on short final to somewhere! Extra altitude not only increases your “radius of action,” it also adds extra time for trouble shooting (which might eliminate the initial problem altogether) and increases the probability that a Mayday call might be heard. The side benefits include greater aircraft efficiency, cooler temperatures in the summer and possibly a smoother ride, in addition to less-congested airspace. Those long, low, flat, power-on final approaches can put you in the trees if your engine even coughs on short final. Keep a little energy in the bank and make it SOP to shoot for a reasonable aiming point on the runway.

The No-Go Decision

The mission was a simple day trip from my home field in southwest Florida to a familiar destination in north-central Georgia of 407 nm, planned to take 2+30 one-way. Spend a few hours on the ground visiting with an old friend, grab a late lunch, then hop back home later the same day. The airplane was ready and willing. But the weather wasn’t cooperating as I wanted. The destination airport offered its own challenges. And while I was instrument-current, I wasn’t as proficient with low IFR as I would have liked.

Download The Full February 2019 Issue PDF

We spend a lot of time preaching to pilots about the mechanics of understanding weather forecasts, determining if the aircraft is capable, and making honest evaluations of our own performance in considering how and when to conduct a flight. But once we identify the need to mitigate a risk, we sometimes have little space left over to describe the tools we can use. Let’s try to fix that.

Resources

Download Acrobat Reader

Many of the charts & tables found on this site are PDFs.

Download Acrobat