July 1999 Issue

A Different Smoke

CIGAR means different things to different people, but a good preflight remains the same

I enjoyed Paul Berge’s article on preflights [Systems Check, May]. It’s good to see someone else concerned about taxiing out over the chocks, etc. Also, having recently bought a PA-12 after not flying a lot of stick controlled airplanes in recent years, the reminder about items obstructing the rear stick was timely for me.

I also often used the CIGARS check list, especially during flight reviews with pilots in their planes, but, I didn’t realize the variations in meaning of the letters. I have used, Controls, Instruments, Gas, Attitude, Runup, and Safety. A pilot can elaborate to include fuel pump as well as quantity and tank selection under Gas, flap along with trim under Attitude, belts & doors under Safety. An extra “R” for Radio sounds like a good idea.

Regarding ice, I occasionally have to tie down when traveling, and polish frost from wings and tail before flight. When I do, I do a solo trip in the pattern before loading passengers. I also watch the airspeed indicator to assure lift off occurs at normal airspeed.

-Dave Gilbert
Madison, SD


The Missing Link
Paul Berge’s article about preflights missed a point that made preflights challenging and fun for my wife and me when we were students.

Our instructor always threatened to do something to the plane, and we were to find it during the inspection. I don’t know the penalty if one didn’t find the problem, but I remember his excitement when we discovered the loosened fuel cap, radio set to an odd frequency, a piece of masking tape on the belly with a note that it was a six-inch gash in the skin, the fuel master set to OFF, etc.

He made the preflight exercise fun, even on a dark, cold and wet morning. Due to his excellent instruction, we continue to view this exercise as one of discovery.

We will never know if this approach to preflighting the plane has saved us from embarrassment or an incident, but we are confident that, as the plane rolls down the runway, everything we should have checked has been checked.

Thanks to Paul. He writes a fine article, humorous and complete. If we can make instructors approach the student with the same attitude and attention, I believe new pilots will be elevated to higher levels.

-Larry & Marcia Wilson
Lake Oswego, Wash.


Berge’s Tip Is in the Bag
Paul Berge’s informative and extremely funny article regarding pre- flight checklists brought to mind a recent experience during my runup. Flight controls were free and clear initially until after pulling back on the elevator and trying it again. Suddenly there was a very noticeable inability to operate the ailerons. Reason? When I had pulled the yoke all the way back, it had snagged on the handle of my flight bag which was in the right front seat (kept there to keep my charts and emergency radio handy). The bag has subsequently been kept in the back ever since.

-Mike Emmer
Bethesda, Md.


All Berge, All the Time
I have enjoyed Paul Berge’s wit and knowledgeable perspective for going on 10 years, including some of the time when he was a regular contributor to IFR magazine. My all-time favorite, a Berge classic, appeared in IFR some years ago. It was entitled something like: “The day Des Moines Tracon ate Chicago Center,” about a bored apprentice controller on the graveyard shift who whiled away the dark hours filing fake flight plans. No one at Center guessed what was going on that was choking up the system until someone noticed in the “remarks” section of one flight plan the statement: “brain donor on board.” Anyway, I hope Mr. Berge will publish a book of his best writings, and lead off with that article. I will personally order a copy for each of my flying friends.

-Curtis Adkisson
Via e-mail

Berge was recently named editor of our sister publication, IFR. Check there for additional doses of Paul’s insightful wackiness.


Refining the Twin Technique
A couple of comments on Ron Levy’s article on flying light twins [Training, May]: Many years ago when I left the Air Force, the so-called gray area in light twins – between rotation and Vyse – was brought to my attention. This gray area can be eliminated by not rotating until a couple of knots below Vyse.

The rotation speed becomes the decision speed and the airplane is never required to fly below Vyse. There may well be aircraft with nose gear limited ground speeds below blue line, but not in any light piston twin I’ve flown. Also, I don’t subscribe to the theory of “Leave the gear down while you’ve got enough runway ahead to land on.”

In the first place, I’m not mathematically gifted so as to be able to crank all the rapidly changing parameters into a calculation of how much is “enough runway.” Secondly, I want air under me and Vy as soon as possible. Both are best achieved by raising the gear as soon as a positive rate of climb is indicated. (The unique Cessna 337 may be an exception.)

These two techniques combined work very well. The reliability of the flat sixes is impressive, but I’ve had two low altitude engine failures over the years and there was no problem in getting around the pattern in a heavy airplane.

-Bob Downs
Via E-mail

Ron Levy replies: No question this will assure you of your best climb performance if you lose one after liftoff, but I know of no light twin training guide that suggests it. If they did, POH’s would need appropriate performance charts, and takeoff distances would be unacceptably long. Since this technique puts you well outside all your performance charts, how do you know how much runway you’re going to need or if you can clear the tree at the end?

This also technically violates the FARs, which require you to determine takeoff performance before flight. While I never espouse blind obedience to FARs, this is a good rule. Finally, the time from liftoff to Vyse is generally only a few seconds, which is a very small window of vulnerability. All things considered, it’s my judgment that the risk of accident due to a mishandled engine failure between book liftoff speed and blue line in a well-maintained light twin doesn’t justify the potential cost of all the uncertainties generated.

As for when to retract the gear, pretend you’re on final approach, and when your view of the remaining runway in front of you tells you you’re too high to land, up comes the gear. That’s close enough.

By leaving the gear down (and thinking about the landing picture) until you’re committed to fly, you’re still in the “land straight ahead” mode, which in all but the shortest fields is almost certainly the safest thing to do. By raising the gear ASAP, you also generate the possibility of landing with the gear in transit after an engine failure, which opens the door to a non-survivable cartwheel.

The only time I raise the gear as soon as I’ve got a positive rate is at a short field. If I lose one too slow to fly, I’m going to make an off-airport landing straight ahead anyway, which most light twin POH’s say should be done gear up. As for “air under me and Vy as soon as possible,” I think that’s a commendable goal, but not at the expense of creating a greater risk between liftoff and Vy.

Combining your two techniques is essential if you use either. If you wait until Vyse to lift off, you will almost certainly be beyond the point of being able to land on the remaining runway (and you will have no data to tell you in advance what you would need). So raising the gear immediately is appropriate. And if you want to raise the gear immediately, you want to be at least at Vyse so there’s no risk of settling back on the runway with the gear in transit. If an engine fails you can definitely fly.

Also, I’m guessing you’re either flying at low density altitudes or have turbochargers, or else you’d definitely have a problem getting a grossed out light twin around the pattern on one engine.

At or above the single-engine service ceiling, or if your single-engine climb gradient is shallower than the required gradient, engine failure immediately after liftoff is going to give you an up-close-and-personal relationship with the trees at the end of the runway no matter what you do. In this case, it’s best to have lifted off earlier and have more altitude and speed with which to play while you find somewhere soft to put the plane.

You can assure safety from single engine failure problems in a twin by observing the same rules as the big boys – no flight over terrain/MEA’s higher than the one-engine-inoperative service ceiling, and no takeoffs when either accelerate/stop distance exceeds runway plus stopway, or single-engine takeoff distance exceeds runway plus clearway.

Unfortunately, this would make it almost impossible to operate light piston twins anywhere but at very long airports, and, unless turbocharged, very low density altitudes. The risks in operating outside these bounds are acceptable for the purposes to which light twins are put, but we should all understand the ramifications: if you lose one, ground contact in the near future is just as certain as losing one in a single – it’s just longer until it happens if you do it right, and shorter if you don’t.


Demonstrate This
Not to be picky, Ron Levy makes a critical mistake when he describes the procedure for the Vmc demo [Training, May]. He states that the airplane is set up in the simulated single engine configuration with one engine at full power, the other at “zero thrust,” and 5 degrees of bank into the good engine.

It is very important that the non critical engine is at full power, both propellers set to high RPM, and power on the critical engine is reduced to idle power.

To set the inoperative engine to “zero thrust” as Ron describes does not configure the aircraft for maximum asymmetric thrust, which is the heart of the maneuver. Also it is widely accepted that 5 degrees of bank into the good engine is incorrect. The PTS states “a bank toward the operating engine, as required for best performance and controllability. This is typically more like 2-3 degrees of bank.

-Larry E. Morris
Concord, N.C.

Ron Levy replies: Mr. Morris is correct. I crossed up the Vmc production certification standard with the practical test Vmc demo procedure.


Chasing the Elusive Pro Techniques
I enjoyed “Wings and Things” [Risk Management, May]. I agree that the FAA mandated minimums and recurrence requirements are not adequate for most of us. I have been flying for nearly 10 years. I have logged 550 hours of time since starting my training, with more than half of that in the last three years. Last fall I bought an airplane with a partner and have, since that time, been flying more on a 200 hour per year pace.

I feel like I am still on a steeper learning curve than I should be — or, put another way, I have not yet reached a level of mastery and proficiency that makes me feel good about my ability to handle everything that comes my way. Too many of my important lessons have come in the form of bad scares.

Milovan Brenlove mentions that general aviation pilots don’t stand a chance of replicating the low risk that the airlines have developed. I agree. But, I wonder what we can do. I believe that it would be interesting to look at the dispatch policies and procedures of professional general aviation pilots. Perhaps there are some lessons there for those of us who are left to our own devices.

Similarly, I am interested in the ongoing training that is required by most companies. I have looked into Flight Safety, generic simulator training and type specific pilot proficiency programs. But, I can’t help but think that I could be getting more out of my regular monthly training sessions with the benefit of a schedule or curriculum to work with.

-John Breitinger
Via e-mail

There are a lot of things the airlines and other professionals do that you can apply to your flying as well. In coming months we’ll have a four-part series that will examine some of those strategies.