June 2017

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Subscribers Only - It’s that time of year again in North America: Summer is upon us and there’s nothing we can do about it without a passport, even if we want- ed to. The good news is we no longer have to deal with freezing precipitation, cold, low clouds hugging a run- way for warmth or preheating our engines. More good news is that the number of reasons to hop in an air- plane and go somewhere will grow. Options will include small y-ins and pancake breakfasts to the large, name-brand events, and everything in between. There is other stuff going on with the change of seasons, which may or may not be good.

Season In The Sun

It’s that time of year again in North America: Summer is upon us and there’s nothing we can do about it without a passport, even if we wanted to. The good news is we no longer have to deal with freezing precipitation, cold, low clouds hugging a runway for warmth or preheating our engines. More good news is that the number of reasons to hop in an airplane and go somewhere will grow.

Flight Following

Thank you for addressing the issue of VFR flight following (“Hacking VFR Flight Following,” May 2017)! Your piece was good enough that I recognize I sometimes have gotten short shrift from ATC due to some communications ineptitude. An item you didn’t address was the loss, and subsequent efforts to reestablish, radio contact en route. Another clarification could be wording with ground control at Class C airports to request advisories prior to departure.

Addicted To Gadgets?

Subscribers Only - When the curriculum gets around to risk-management topics, one of the hazardous attitudes we learn about in ground school is invulnerability. The thing is this trait isn’t necessarily about feeling as if we ourselves are bulletproof, but rather the notion that bad things happen to people other than ourselves. I have been a victim of this more than once. Don’t worry—no sheet metal was bent.

Flight Following, Part II

I was motoring home from New Orleans a couple of months ago, sliding eastbound along the shoreline, IFR at 9000 feet. After a controller gave me a frequency change for the next controller, I switched over and listened, which I always do when coming onto a new frequency. The first transmission I heard was a pilot saying something like “...and we have four hours of fuel aboard.” Hmmm. In my experience, it’s rare for anyone to talk about their fuel availability on an ATC frequency unless there’s an emergency in progress and ATC wants to know souls and endurance.

Humans And Checklists

Subscribers Only - When I got my private at age 18, I was flying a Cessna 152 off a pasture. It didn’t take much to memorize the steps necessary to get the old girl started: I followed the old adage, “Kick the tires and light the fires.” When the checklist said, “Gas on fullest tank,” it was pretty easy, since the 152’s fuel selector is an on/off affair and always draws from both tanks. In my 18-year-old brain, the checklist seemed like an unnecessary list of the obvious. It either directed me to change the airplane’s configuration to what it already was in or change it to one that was patently obvious given the stage of flight. In short, my early experiences did not help me build the best of habits.

Situational Awareness?

Over the last couple of decades, there’s been a growing realization within aviation’s training and safety arenas about situational awareness. The conversation generally involves ways to enhance situational awareness in the cockpit and often concentrates on technological solutions, like moving maps, or displaying real-time traffic and weather. The presumption is that greater situational awareness is better and that all of us have at least some measure of this characteristic.

Stabilized Approaches

As a pilot who spent the majority of his time landing on the kind of runways described by Mike Hart in his article, “Off The Beaten Path,” in June 2015’s issue of Aviation Safety, I will testify to the fun of landing at such places. Most pilots will spend their time on surfaces free of undulations, slope and aircraft damaging debris, so it was good to be reminded of how the surface interacts with my flying.

The Magnetic Compass

Subscribers Only - It’s rather quaint these days that aircraft still carry a magnetic compass. The cellphone in the pilot’s pocket probably has a more stable and less error-prone electronic sensor to know which way it’s pointed. When turned or accelerated, that solid-state device remains accurate in situations where a conventional “whiskey” compass will twist and turn like a bobble-head toy on a student pilot’s first solo. With all that technology going on, the magnetic compass remains a staple of most cockpits around the world.

NTSB Takes On Pireps

Pilots love to disrespect the FAA’s Notice to Airmen (Notam) system. It’s been the subject of federal legislation in recent years, and now the NTSB has published a Special Investigative Report (SIR-17/02), “Improving Pilot Weather Report Submission and Dissemination to Benefit Safety in the National Airspace System,” a 68-page collection of everything that’s wrong with the system. The Board undertook the investigation after investigating 16 accidents and incidents that exposed Pirep-related areas of concern between March 2012 and December 2015.

Coming Up Short

Subscribers Only - These pages often have admonished readers to become more serious about takeoffs. The reasons are many, but at the risk of repetition can include environmental conditions, partial power failures, improper recent maintenance and just plain old lousy technique. Put another way, there’s always a question of whether the airplane will perform as expected and whether our pre-takeoff planning—such as it may be—will be adequate. Add some complacency into the mix and the results can surprise even experienced pilots.

NTSB Reports: June 2017

Subscribers Only - While on the base leg for his private grass airstrip, the pilot noticed he was high, so he added flaps to increase his descent rate. On final, the airspeed was a little fast and during the landing, he flared the airplane “a little high.” After touchdown, the pilot applied the brakes, but the airplane did not respond, so he applied “a little more brake.” The airplane nosed over and came to rest inverted, sustaining substantial damage to both wings and the empennage. The pilot reported he should have performed a go-around instead of attempting to “salvage the landing.”

Are You Ready For This?

Subscribers Only - The day’s mission was a relatively simple out and back to a Class C airport, a couple of hours on the ground, and back to home plate. It was about 45 minutes of flying time each way. Although it was spring in Texas, the same weather would be a nice but humid peak summer day in many locations. White puffies with bases around 3500 feet msl and extending to at least 10,000 were everywhere.


Subscribers Only - The number 3 cylinder exhaust pushrod broke, due to a valve stuck in the closed position. The valve was not stuck at the time of the investigation. No marks were seen on the top of the piston as viewed through a borescope. The lifter came apart as a result of the broken push rod but appears to have been operating properly prior to the event.