Sample Articles

Please enjoy these sample articles from Aviation Safety Magazine. You will discover in-depth accident analysis and practical aviation articles for pilots on how you can develop the judgment that will keep you in the air and out of the NTSB's files.

You Are The Backup To Safety Enhancing Aircraft Avionics

There’s no going back—we are in an era of high-tech avionics and cockpit automation. Even some LSAs are sporting "glass" cockpits and simple autopilots; cross-country airplanes sport panels and equipment unheard of even in high-end turbines scant years ago, and the turbines themselves are becoming more accessible to owner-pilots. Even the most capable of these airplanes, however, has its automation limitations. Proper operation and constant monitoring of automated systems remains the responsibility of well-trained and emergency-current pilots. On April 19, 2008, a Cessna Citation Mustang suffered substantial damage when its pilot ground-looped the light jet to prevent a runway overshoot at Carlsbad, Calif. According to the NTSB’s preliminary report, this was an intentional act to prevent going off a cliff past the end of the runway after the pilot landed "fast" and beyond the mid-point of Carlsbad’s 4600-foot available landing surface. The pilot’s quick action may be credited with sparing injury (or worse) to the four people on board.

Top Ten Aviation Risk Reduction Steps

How’s this for an aviation truism? "The best pilots possess the superior judgment to avoid situations requiring their superior skills to survive." While arguably more true than a whole wealth of aeronautical truisms, it doesn’t provide much guidance in our quest to become one of those wiser and more-capable aviators. Which raises an obvious question: How does one develop such profound judgment? First off, what exactly is risk? Borrowing a widely used formula, we can describe risk as the product of a known threat weighed against the probability of that threat occurring. Another way to express it would be something like Risk = Probability x Consequences. Our risk-managed learning process begins the first time we venture out alone. Our maiden solo is just the first of such envelope-expanding experiences we’ll face. What’s the threat in a first solo? The student crashing, of course, or freezing at the controls, or running the plane off the runway, or.... Since it’s our CFIs who urge us into that first solo flight, we can reasonably infer that the CFI has made that risk assessment for us, and gave us the nod when the instructor gauges as low the probability of a bad result. But the confidence shown by our CFI, who did the heavy lifting in risk-management for our first solo, is the first of a very few times in which we can acceptably cede judgment to another. By the time we embark on our CFI-approved solo cross-country, we’re at the point where all further in-flight decision making is all ours.

On A Mission: Best Practices On Thunderstorm Avoidance

Thunderstorms can impede our progress any time of the year. If we kept the plane in the hangar every time a forecast called for them, however, we’d almost never fly in the spring and summer months. To learn how to safely dispatch and conduct a flight in areas of thunderstorms, we’ve asked pilots "on a mission" to fly in almost all conditions—priority cargo and business transportation—what it takes to make it to their destination on schedule. More important, we also asked when storms are strong enough to sit it out despite the sometimes severe economic consequences. With far less stress to "go" than these commercial and business operators, pilots of owner-flown airplanes can learn from their expert strategy for thunderstorm avoidance. Ameriflight is a major Part 135 air cargo operation, serving over 200 cities across North America with more than 2100 departures a week. The carrier operates a fleet of over 170 aircraft, mostly commuter-size turboprops and Learjets. To meet such a demanding schedule Ameriflight can’t afford to take unnecessary risks with thunderstorms. About half of its airplanes are unpressurized, and most operations are below 19,000 feet, so they’re in the thick of the weather. When it comes to thunderstorm avoidance, John Hazlet, vice president of safety and standards, as well as director of operations for Ameriflight, knows what he’s talking about: "I cut my teeth flying DC-6s with a 50,000 watt, 36-inch dish radar," Hazlet says.

Saving The Cessna Caravan

There’s virtually no substitute for Cessna’s Model 208 Caravan as an economical, high-volume utility airplane. That’s why it was a shock to the industry when the FAA considered revoking the Caravan’s "known ice" certification. After becoming indispensable as a small-package workhorse and charter/backcountry passenger transport, a terrible trend began to develop: Caravans were crashing after encountering icing conditions. The FAA threatened to pull the 208’s certification for flight in icing unless industry figured out how to reverse the trend. Somebody had to save the Caravan. What operators, Cessna and the FAA did may change the way we all think about icing certification. The Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association (www.racca-online.org) represents light package carriers usually certificated under FAR Part 135, including over 50 operators of more than 1000 Caravans on contract to FedEx, UPS, DHL and the U.S. Postal Service. Association President Stan Bernstein readily notes the Caravan’s history shows a "tendency to get in trouble in icing," a trend that became "worrisome" and "troubled our industry." Accidents involved pilots from entry-level new hires to the most experienced pilots, dispelling an initial reaction that only low-time pilots were getting in over their head in weather—"even experienced pilots were getting into icing trouble.

LSA Engine Safety

Aircraft engines these days come in a lot more flavors and configurations than they used to, thanks largely to the advent of two forms of alternative aviation: most recently, the light sport aircraft (LSA) market and, much earlier, the 1990s surge in experimental/amateur kit-built aircraft. Where some of the more-popular experimental designs and several legacy-S-LSA models employ familiar powerplants, the majority fly with engines from BRP-Rotax in Austria, HKS in Japan and Jabiru in Australia. Who are these companies and what’s their track record in making flying-machine engines? How do they compare to the "traditional," FAA-certified offerings from Continental and Lycoming? Who sets the standards? And what’s their safety record? These newer engines can spur concerns among ardent fans of the familiar, tried-and-true air-cooled flat aircraft engines from Textron Lycoming and Teledyne Continental Motors. Often, it seems, those concerns grow out of unfamiliarity. The differences in care and feeding and in systems fuels debates about their reliability and, in turn, safety of the newer engines.

The Problem With Flight Training

A catchall phrase, pilot error, is assigned either as a broad cause or a factor in upwards of 90 percent of general aviation accidents. But pilot error comes in two distinctly different flavors: tactical errors, which can be attributed directly to a pilot’s chosen behavior; and operational errors, which can be traced back to instructional errors or omissions committed during flight training. Little usually can be done to eliminate tactical errors made by those who intentionally ignore safe flying practices. The foundation for operational errors, on the other hand, is laid and even reinforced during the transfer of knowledge between aviation educators and their pupils. So suppose that as a result of the aviation education system itself, the pilot never received the appropriate knowledge and skill to handle a particular situation? Or suppose as a result of the pilot’s training, the probability is near zero that the pilot can or will choose a suitable course of action? How can we then blame the pilot for committing the error? Take the typical stall training conducted to satisfy the FAA’s Practical Test Standards, for instance. The emphasis is placed on detailed procedures used to configure for, perform and exit a couple of specific types of stalls. Treated as an independent maneuver unto itself, the whole ordeal is often enveloped in unnecessary melodrama as well. The actual lessons learned, however, are fear and a false association between the stall and slow airspeed.

Taxi Smack

Driving the airplane to and from the runway is a piece of cake, right? Not for the dozens who prang something each year. Many pilots appear to have the attitude that a flight begins with takeoff and ends when the airplane departs the runway after the landing roll. However, ground operations certainly cause their share of grief. While many taxi accidents are unavoidable, such as during bush operations, the majority fall into categories that can only be described as stupid human tricks.

Thou Shalt Not

The most-violated FARs are sometimes true safety problems, sometimes merely legal ones. Sometimes you look at an FAR and have to scratch your head. What, you ask yourself, can that possibly have to do with flight safety? The various rules, placards and limitations seem to be written more for the FAA’s lawyers than for pilots and their passengers.

Why Can’t We Land?

Hard landings, loss of control, runway overruns – is kissing pavement so hard? Landing accidents account for more than a third of all general aviation accidents. While landing accidents are not as likely to be fatal as other kinds of crashes – only 3 to 4 percent of fatal accidents are caused by poor landings – they are responsible for nearly 500 bent airplanes per year.

Flying a Fleet

Pilots who fly a variety of airplanes need some tricks to keep ’em straight. For the average owner/pilot, it’s not hard to stay knowledgeable about the systems and procedures of the airplane you’re flying. You fly not only the same make, model, and year, but the very same airplane every time you fly.