July 2018

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Subscribers Only - People wouldn’t fly personal aircraft—or participate in many other activities—if there weren’t benefits. That’s human nature. Some benefits we seek by taking risks are intangible and hard to quantify. Others can be readily identified and weighted. It’s a calculus we all employ daily in mundane ways. However, the problem isn’t that we fail to assess benefits when we analyze risk. Instead, the issue is the inaccurate values we assign on both sides of the equation.

Fly The Airplane

Subscribers Only - Fly personal airplanes long enough and you’ll eventually have to deal with an open door or window. Usually it’s a cabin entry door that someone forgot to fully latch. Usually. Sometimes it’s a baggage door, and there goes your luggage, sliding down the runway at 70 knots. The thing is, inadvertent door or window openings typically occur at or shortly after lifting off from a runway, because that’s when the changes in air pressure in and outside the airplane tend to find any weak spots.

Approach Gates

Subscribers Only - An instrument approach procedure is often described as a series of windows, or gates, extending from the final approach fix (FAF) to the missed approach point (MAP). Stay within the ever-narrowing vertical and lateral limits and you’ll arrive at the MAP on glide path and centered on the inbound course. It’s far less common to extend this concept backward from the FAF through the terminal area to the en route environment, and forward from the MAP through the missed approach to the holding fix.

Rationalization

People wouldn’t fly personal aircraft—or participate in many other activities—if there weren’t benefits. That’s human nature. Some benefits we seek by taking risks are intangible and hard to quantify. Others can be readily identified and weighted. It’s a calculus we all employ daily in mundane ways. However, the problem isn’t that we fail to assess benefits when we analyze risk. Instead, the issue is the inaccurate values we assign on both sides of the equation.

Risk And Benefit

I much appreciated Robert Wright's May 2018 article, “Risk Assessment Tools.” We use a version of a flight risk assessment tool in our flying club, and while I agree that numerical values should not be the sole criteria for the go, no-go decision, the process does provide a checklist of sorts for decision-making. The most valuable risk assessment tool I use is not found on any web site or aviation app, but is the application of a simple philosophy: If I have to analyze a go, no-go decision for more than a few seconds, it is a sure sign that the risk requires serious mitigation or a willingness to stay safely on the ground.

Flight Review: Nuisance Or Opportunity?

Most pilots who fly single-engine piston airplanes in non-commercial operations do not undertake formal training at annual or other intervals. Instead, they are only required to complete a flight review from a certified flight instructor (CFI) every other year to fly as pilot-in-command. For most pilots, this is an exercise to be completed with as little effort as possible. Some pilots resent the requirement while a few even dread it. This doesn’t have to be the case, however.

Good To Go?

Subscribers Only - Regardless of what you fly, how it’s equipped, and how old or new it is, you eventually will encounter inoperative instruments and/or equipment during a preflight inspection. It can be something known to the operator and the maintenance department, or it can be something new. Once the inoperative component is discovered, you have to make a determination whether it’s legal to fly the airplane without repairs, and then decide if it’s safe to fly. The two are not the same.

Aviation Accident Data For Skeptics

Subscribers Only - An aircraft accident would seem like an easy thing to identify: Look for the smoking crater with a few pieces of empennage sticking out, right? Okay, that one probably qualifies. But the national statistics are derived from a very specific definition of “accident” that’s not based on either the event’s immediate effects on airworthiness or the projected cost of repairs. Airplanes can be and often are scrapped for damage that would cost more to fix than their hulls are worth but still doesn’t qualify as “substantial” enough to merit reporting. Conversely, damage that does qualify sometimes goes unnoticed by the pilots who inflicted it, only to be discovered on a later pre-flight inspection.

Twenty Miles?

Subscribers Only - The 20-mile clearance policy is a safe number and probably easy to stipulate, but scale and definitions make it challenging. For every fully visible and developed severe thunderstorm, there are even more smaller cells or building storms that may or may not grow to thunderstorm level. Sometimes a curtain of rain is just a curtain of rain. Other times, it can be hiding something much bigger due to the lurking cumulonimbus that has built up above the overcast.

NTSB Reports

Subscribers Only - After maneuvering away from the airport, the Piper returned and executed a touch-and-go landing. Radar data indicate the airplane climbed to 900 feet msl at 80 knots of groundspeed before radar contact was lost. Witnesses observed the airplane flying normally, then saw the left wing separate from the fuselage, which impacted a field. Preliminary examination revealed the left wing main spar exhibited cracks from metal fatigue extending through more than 80 percent of the lower spar cap, and portions of the forward and aft spar web doublers. The right wing also exhibited fatigue cracks in the lower spar cap at the same hole location extending up to 0.047-inch deep. The 2007 airplane had accumulated 7690 flight hours since new. Weather at 0953 included wind from 260 degrees at seven knots, 10 statute miles of visibility and few clouds at 25,000 feet.

Water, Water Everywhere

Subscribers Only - While retrieving the airplane’s paperwork and keys, I was told its airspeed indicator (ASI) was acting up. It was reading low, according to the FBO, and the airplane was due for some shop time later that day. The shop hadn’t opened yet that morning, though, and I had plans later in the day, making a delay problematic. I asked if the airplane was grounded. “No,” was the response.

Farewell, DUATS

Subscribers Only - For many pilots, the transition likely won’t be noticed. Popular electronic flight bag (EFB) apps like ForeFlight and Garmin Pilot long ago went beyond what is/was available on DUATS alone and pulled in data and imagery from a variety of sources. That will continue. And the many other aviation weather services available from Jeppesen, The Weather Company and other providers aren’t going anywhere. In fact, if it wasn’t for the success of DUATS, those other services might not exist, or might not be as ubiquitous as they are.

Mooney Issues

Pilot disconnected the (S-Tec 50) autopilot and hand-flew for several minutes. Shortly after initiating a descent to land, the ailerons began to “seize.” It took five to 10 seconds to lose aileron authority, followed by elevator authority. Pilot forced to make emergency landing with only a few degrees of operable aileron and elevator, but landed without damage or injury. Examination revealed the autopilot had re-engaged and the servo clutches had frozen.