September 2016

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Subscribers Only - As I progressively increased my use of the Mooney and Bonanzas, the process of safely using the airplanes for virtually all of my domestic transportation followed a more organized safety management process. Cutting to the chase, in the 52 years I have been flying I have not had an accident, incident or serious occurrence where the outcome of the flight was in doubt. I also accomplished my transportation objectives more than 95 percent of the time. I’m no superman and only an average stick, so what are my secrets? Pilots will all approach this differently, but I believe the factors highlighted in the sidebar on page 5 were most responsible for this record.

Accident Witness

Subscribers Only - There I was, on my last day at EAA’s 2016 AirVenture extravaganza in Oshkosh, Wis. It had been a great week, with a full Oshkosh “experience,” including camping in the rain, spending some money and catching up with old friends. The airplane was loaded and preflighted, the door was closed and I was strapped in. I’d gotten the departure flick from the ATIS and from watching airplanes depart Runway 36L, the threshold for which was about 200 yards east and south of me. I was ready to power things back up, start the engine and get outta Dodge.

Still More On JFK, Jr.

Subscribers Only - I recently read Mr. Marcum’s excellent comments concerning the crash of JFK, Jr.’s Piper Saratoga II. As a pilot and flight instructor, and as a clinical laboratory scientist for over 50 years, I’d like to suggest there are additional factors that command consideration. First, with no reported passenger in the right seat, was there an asymmetric load on the aircraft which was initially compensated by the autopilot? Could the pilot have experienced a runaway electronic trim malfunction when resuming manual control of the aircraft?

50 Years a Pilot

As I write this, I’m looking at my Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award sitting near the window sill. It’s “the most prestigious award the FAA issues to pilots,” according to the agency, and eligibility for it requires a minimum of 50 years to elapse since a pilot’s first solo flight. I originally dismissed this award as an overblown creation of the FAA or, worse, an “old geezers” award for longevity. I finally decided it would be a great bookend for a lifetime of flying, or a beginning of the next chapter. For those of you out there with 50 continuous years of flying without accident, incident or violation—or if you know someone who meets the minimum requirements—you can find details of the award and how to apply on the FAA website.

Beyond Formal Risk Management

Back in the day, the formal risk management techniques applying to contemporary general aviation hadn’t been invented yet, so most pilots were on their own. How did they survive? Here are the main factors the author attributes to his success.

An Instrument Proficiency Check Each Year

Subscribers Only - There’s no question in my mind; instrument pilots who fly IFR without proficiency are an accident waiting to happen. They used to call it “competency” but the word, I suspect, has negative connotations that the FAA wanted to avoid. I say call it what it is. After all, what competent human would put his life—and the lives of his passengers—in jeopardy deliberately? That’s what a pilot who has not practiced IFR or is unfamiliar with the avionics in his aircraft does when he or she blasts off into cloud.

Bottom of the White

Subscribers Only - When transitioning between Earth and sky and back again, we fly at the lower end of the controlled-flight regime—as Goldilocks might say, “Not too fast, not too slow, but just right.” Pilots departing generally spend less time in the bottom range of their aircraft’s airspeed envelope than during arrivals and approaches. Departing, we accelerate into the takeoff roll, lift off and, still accelerating, climb. Arrivals are the opposite. We descend and slow to approach speed, enter the pattern, and decelerate even more when sliding down the final.

Density Altitude’s Trifecta

When considering landing on a runway with marginal length or a difficult or obstructed departure path, the first stage of aeronautical decision-making is deciding whether to land in the first place. The next one is if you land, can you make it out safely? Quite often there are good reasons to do neither, with perhaps the biggest single factor being density altitude, usually when trying to take off at the planned time. In case you’re thinking density altitude (DA) is strictly something that concerns mountain-flying enthusiasts like me, you should know it is not a concept unique to the high country. High-altitude pilots just have a head start when it comes to familiarity with DA. Anyone who’s flown in the summertime, including from sea-level airports, has experienced some form of DA.

Cool Your Jets

Most of us fly airplanes powered by air-cooled piston engines. I’m thinking of a conventional, horizontally opposed spark-ignition powerplant from Lycoming or Continental, though the big radials also are air-cooled. The popular Rotax 912/914 series uses air to cool some portions of the engine and liquid for the rest. And even if an engine is totally liquid-cooled, it uses a radiator to exchange heat with the ambient air. Why do we use air as a primary coolant when liquid usually is more efficient, and a liquid-cooled engine can be built to tighter tolerances and greater resulting efficiencies? Air cooling is lighter and simpler than the alternatives, for one. For another, its the same reason submarines aren’t air-cooled—the abundance of air rushing past an airplane in flight provides ample opportunities to shed an engine’s heat. But that’s true only if the air entering an engine cowling is properly managed and directed.

Medical Deregulation is a Reality

Subscribers Only - In case you missed it, on July 15, 2016, President Obama signed into law legislation extending FAA programs through September 2017. In a well-earned victory for AOPA, EAA, other organizations and thousands of U.S. pilots, part of that legislation included a long-awaited provision exempting certain Part 91 operations from the requirement to hold a third-class medical. The exemption idea has a long history, but most recently was championed by U.S. Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.). But there’s some fine print.

Spin Recovery Failure

Subscribers Only - Spin training—instruction in how to enter and recover from spins—used to be part of the private pilot curriculum. It was discontinued a few decades ago, in part because it was blamed for a drop-off in the number of students who completed their training and earned their private certificate. These days, the only required spin training is for the initial flight instructor certificate and one of the most popular line of airplanes—the Cirrus SR20 and SR22—come with an airframe parachute in lieu of demonstrated spin recovery capability.

NTSB Reports: September 2016

Subscribers Only - At about 0900 Eastern time, the airplane was substantially damaged upon impacting an aircraft hangar following a total loss of engine power during a go-around. The flight instructor (CFI) and a student pilot received minor injuries. Visual conditions prevailed. The two had been practicing takeoffs and landings for about an hour when, on the downwind leg of the traffic pattern, the CFI directed the student to demonstrate a simulated engine failure. The airplane was about ¼ of the way down the runway when he initiated go-around. At this point, the engine sputtered and lost power. The CFI took over the flight controls and made a left turn at about 100 feet agl with the intent of flying over a hangar to a clear area beyond but realized they would not clear it. He placed the airplane in a 45-degree nose-up attitude so the engine penetrated the hangar’s metal door first.

High And Dry

Subscribers Only - Have you encountered a situation or hazardous condition that yielded lessons on how to better manage the risks involved in flying? Do you have an experience to share with Aviation Safety’s readers about an occasion that taught you something significant about ways to conduct safer flight operations? If so, we want to hear about it. We encourage you to submit a brief (500 words) write-up of your Learning Experience to Aviation Safety for possible publication. Each month, Aviation Safety publishes a collection of similar experiences sent to us by readers. Sharing with others the benefit of your experience and the lessons you learned can be an invaluable aid to other pilots.


Engine lost power, causing aircraft to make an emergency landing, resulting in substantial damage. Investigation revealed microbial growth in the carburetor's fuel bowl at the drain plug area, causing blockage at the fuel channel and subsequent loss of power. This could be avoided by removing the carburetor (p/n MA3) drain plug at specified intervals and draining any moisture that may accumulate in that area.