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One of the greatest risks lightning poses to aviation involves ground-based operations: people working outdoors are particularly vulnerable. A 2013 report by the American Meteorological Society indicated that lightning safety rules for ground-based aviation are not standardized. Airports set their own standards for ceasing and resuming operations, as do FBOs. Here are some typical guidelines for airport management tied to lightning proximity:
Subscribers Only - In the beginning, airborne lightning detection was a bug, not a feature. Older radios, especially the automatic direction finder (ADF), tended to fall down when thunderstorms and associated lightning were about. Communications became filled with static and the ADF needle pointed to the lightning, not the desired station. Soon, enterprising pilots figured out the ADF was pointing at a dangerous part of the thunderstorm and used it as an avoidance tool, coarse though it was. Then, weather radar become small and light enough to routinely be fitted to transports, relegating the ADF to pointing at outer markers again.
Subscribers Only - The ease with which we can carry current charts in an EFB app means there’s usually no good reason we don’t have approach plates aboard. But stuff can happen. You’ll need a little more help from ATC.
Subscribers Only - In the scenario described at the top of this article, we’re trying to get back to home plate in 800 overcast and two miles, somewhere in the U.S. It’s a good idea to get an IFR clearance to deal with that low of a ceiling. But what if the ceiling was 5000 overcast, or unlimited, with the same two miles of visibility? You’d still need a clearance to get home, but it doesn’t have to be an IFR.
Subscribers Only - The FAA’s Advisory Circular (AC) 90-23G, “Aircraft Wake Turbulence,” is the latest edition of the agency’s guidance on this topic, having been revised in February 2014. The new AC, at paragraph 9, “VORTEX ENCOUNTER GUIDANCE,” states in part:
Subscribers Only - While flames in the cabin pretty much assure a bad day, such events are thankfully very rare. Much more common when an in-flight fire erupts are smoke and fumes in the cabin, and they are potential killers.
Subscribers Only - Most measurements put lightning in the range of 5000 to 20,000 amps, but 1971’s strike to the Apollo 15 launch vehicle was measured at 100,000 amperes.
Despite pilot Roger Peterson being a “young married man who built his life around flying,” he had failed his instrument rating checkride nine months prior to the accident. He held a waiver to his second-class medical certificate for a hearing deficiency, although this almost certainly was not a factor in the accident. Most significantly, he had taken instrument training in an aircraft with a different type of attitude indicator than the one in the Bonanza. It provided a direct movement of the airplane on the face of the instrument, similar to today’s modern steam-gauge attitude indicators, but opposite that of the then more-prevalent war-surplus attitude indicators in which the airplane stayed constant in the instrument while the artificial horizon moved instead.
Subscribers Only - Wind and surface: - Upwind landing preferred - Avoid high crosswinds - Roads and smooth surfaces preferred - Avoid soft, rocky or rolling terrain
Subscribers Only - Combustion requires an appropriate fuel and an ignition source, plus air. When we’re airborne, we have lots and lots of air available, some of it moving quite fast, enabling and perhaps worsening a fire. Depending on the source, location and intensity of an in-flight fire, it can have catastrophic effects on the airframe, engine(s), electrical system and, of course, the occupants. So, it’s not much of a stretch for us to say an in-flight fire is one thing all pilots should respect.
There was a demonstrably high probability this flight would end tragically. If we assess honestly all the risks identified, along with their likelihood (probability) and severity (consequences), it’s clear that mitigation was needed to reduce these high risk levels.
It’s enlightening to contrast 1959 with today. The civilian jet era had barely begun, and the skies were still ruled by DC-7s, Connies and Stratocruisers, with Convairs and DC-3s for the short hops. Airline fares were tightly regulated and four-engine airliners stopped at a surprising number of out-of-the-way places. Yet a large majority of Americans had never flown in any kind of airplane.
Subscribers Only - To help prevent in-flight fires, always insist on having all maintenance done by certified professionals. During the preflight inspection, ensure that fuel and oil filler caps are secure. Additionally, look for leaks and small puddles of fuel or oil on the ground beneath the engine cowling(s) and fuel tanks/sumps. Checking for fuel and oil leaks on and inside the engine cowling also is strongly recommended.
There’s an old, tasteless joke from the mid-1990s, back when some Boeing 737s were having a problem with uncommanded rudder movement eventually traced to the hydraulic system’s power control unit. The rudder hardovers were probable causes in two fatal U.S. accidents, and were suspected in other incidents worldwide.
There might be an inaccuracy in your excellent article, "Time to Bite the Bullet?" in the June 2015 issue. We all agree that ADS-B In (TIS-B traffic data and FIS-B weather information) is provided by ADS-B ground stations and received by 978 MHz UAT receivers, through certified/installed and/or portable units. The TIS-B traffic data is rebroadcast from the ADS-B ground stations and shows the same traffic a radar controller sees (except for primary targets), so there is no difference whether the aircraft position is transmitted to the ground through a 1090 MHz extended squitter transponder or through UAT-Out 978 MHz transceiver.
It’s tragic that so many public figures have perished in general aviation accidents. The death of a celebrity in a general aviation aircraft almost always leaves a strong negative impact on the industry’s image, probably creating additional downstream challenges ranging from local airport restrictions to reduced student pilot starts. Traditional media rarely is helpful and the ignorance of mainstream journalism causes additional harm.
Subscribers Only - Don’t stop to think, just answer the question: When flying a crosswind approach to landing, which compensation technique do you use, a sideslip all the way to the runway, touching down first on the upwind main wheel? Or do you “crab” into the crosswind, kicking it out at the last second to align the airplane with the runway as it touches down?
Subscribers Only - From time to time, someone will pop up with the idea that the time-honored practice of visual traffic separation—often known as “see and be seen”—is too archaic for modern aircraft. Anything that flies, so the theory goes, should have some kind of automated collision avoidance system which does exist but will solve all potential conflicts between aircraft of all sizes. Someday, perhaps, but until then most of us are “stuck” using see and be seen.
Subscribers Only - Lightning always gets your attention. It should. On average, 51 people die in the U.S. each year from lightning strikes, making it the second-most common cause of storm-related deaths in the country, behind only floods. Hundreds more people are struck by lightning each year in the U.S., resulting in significant injury. Lightning strikes, however, mostly affect people on the ground and generally cause little to no injury to pilots in the air despite NOAA estimates that there are about 25 million lightning strikes in the U.S. each year.
Subscribers Only - Sometimes you just get set up. You got up early, looked out the window at a nearly clear sky and figured you’d fly the 80 miles or so to visit a buddy and hang out at his airport instead of yours. You whipped out your tablet for a full briefing and to make sure there were no TFRs. The forecast advertised nothing below 5000 broken and four miles viz all day, so you headed for the airport, did the preflight and motored off over the horizon.
Subscribers Only - All pilots and controllers know about wake turbulence, the vortices streaming out and downward from an airplane’s wingtips anytime it’s generating lift. We know they’re strongest when the generating airplane is heavy, clean and slow. We know not to fly in-trail of a larger airplane at the same altitude unless there are at least three minutes’ separation, preferably more.
Subscribers Only - At about 1225 Central time, the gyrocopter was destroyed when it collided with power lines while maneuvering. The solo private pilot sustained serious injuries. Visual conditions prevailed. The gyrocopter had impacted 30-foot-high power lines, breaking two of them. The pilot's headgear showed thermal damage to the faceshield and soot was evident inside of the shield and around the face relief of the helmet, consistent with electrical arcing. The engine appeared to be mostly intact and fuel was present.
As I scanned the local conditions for my first IFR flight after relocating the airplane to Non-Towered Municipal, I decided I needed to get my clearance on the ground before taking off. Using my cellphone, I called Flight Service, obtained my clearance and departed just fine. Only then I discovered the weather was far better than my estimation; good enough that I easily could have departed and picked up my clearance airborne.
Subscribers Only - The alternator cooling fan came apart after takeoff, and parts punched a hole in the induction air box downstream of the air filter. Also, the alternator belt became loose in the engine compartment. Loss of power from engine FOD damage resulted in an uneventful landing back to the airport. The cooling fan had fractured at one of the fins’ spot welds.