From the November 2015 Issue
Many instrument-rated pilots struggle to maintain their proficiency for IFR. Logging the six approaches, holding procedures and course intercepts/tracking required by FAR 61.57(c) can be quite the challenge for pilots who fly infrequently or who are based in regions where good weather is routine. Simulators and training devices can be major boosts to maintaining proficiency, especially when focused on maintaining instrument scanning skills and practicing IFR procedures. But when it comes to flying personal aircraft in the clag, theres nothing that beats practicing in the real thing.
Heres a question for you about ground effect, prompted by your article, Using Ground Effect, in the October 2015 issue, and specifically the statement: We all should know ground effect is only encountered...well, close to a flat surface, be it liquid or solid, but sometimes we forget.
Although the U.S. and European airline industries have mostly eliminated controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accidents by adopting new technologies, improved training and relevant procedures, general aviation continues to be plagued by them. Meanwhile, the FAA and the general aviation community have recognized that CFIT accidents are a major safety problem. The General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC)a group of FAA and industry organizations seeking data-driven solutions for key general aviation safety problemshas analyzed accident data and is targeting the most prevalent causal factors, concentrating on reduction of fatal accidents. Work groups are then formed to develop mitigations for these causal factors, emphasizing non-regulatory solutions.
All instruments in your panel lie some of the time. Some of them lie all the time. Even if you have a glass panel that eliminates things like compass turning errors, and its connected to an air-data computer so it always know the true airspeed, your back-up systems likely are steam gauges, the old-fashioned, mechanical kind. Thats the bad news.
According to those who have done extensive research into pilot behavior, a major characteristic of a typical pilots decision-making often leading to a fatal accident is that we are highly mission-oriented. We continue to focus on getting to the destination even as weather and mechanical issues progressively go down the tubes. The accompanying stress results in tunnel vision and reduces our ability to objectively analyze the big picture. One result can be very capable pilots pressing on into conditions that ultimately bring the flight to an ugly conclusion.
Most of the time, the typical pilot flying the typical airplane will be in a straight-and-level attitude. When it comes time to join a traffic pattern, for example, enter a holding pattern or fly an ATC vector, we abandon straight-and-level for turning flight. When we turn, we change the airplanes aerodynamicsthe degree of change depends quite literally on the degree of bankand one outcome can be uncoordinated flight. Ideally, we all would be adept at maintaining coordinated flight, in turns and other maneuvers.
I often verbalize the last item on my preflight checklist just before taxiing onto an active runway and ask, aloud, How could this flight kill me? I run through all the Big Stuff in my mind, mentally ticking off each item that meets the criterion from an imaginary checklist. Its similar to the FAAs PAVE model Pilot, Aircraft, environment and External pressuresbut theres also a factor that doesnt quite fit the acronym: the payload. Call it PAVE-Load, or LPAVE.
The question of what constitutes flying a loggable instrument approach procedure (IAP) often comes up during both hangar-flying sessions and check rides. The commonly accepted definition has been something like the aircraft flies over an initial approach fix (IAF) and departs the final approach fix (FAF) inbound to the airport in actual or simulated IMC and breaks out somewhere before reaching the missed approach point (MAP), decision height (DH) or decision altitude (DA). Its not all that simple, of course, especially once simulators and view-limiting devices get involved. To help clarify the answers, the FAA recently published official guidance.
In my experience, one characteristic most pilots share is an individualistic, self-sufficient attitude. Typically, we revel in learning the skills required to fly an aircraft well and embrace the challenges it presents. We also usually dont stop with aviation alone, often engaging in other activities designed to challenge us mentally, physically or both. Examples might include skydiving, motorcycling, running marathons and the like.
At about 0930 Mountain time, the airplane was destroyed during a forced landing and subsequent post-impact fire after experiencing a total loss of engine power in cruise flight. The solo private pilot was not injured. Visual conditions prevailed.
That was my inner voice screaming. My actual voice asking, What the *&^%* is going on? at least three times. It was a sudden, instantaneous event. One moment, I was trundling along in my Comanche 250 climbing slowly eastward over the Sierras, looking out at clear blue skies as the autopilot dutifully tracked the GPS toward my destination. Then, bam! The cabin filled with an acrid-smelling cloud. I could not see the instrument panel.