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Accident Probes

The No-Go Decision

The mission was a simple day trip from my home field in southwest Florida to a familiar destination in north-central Georgia of 407 nm, planned to take 2+30 one-way. Spend a few hours on the ground visiting with an old friend, grab a late lunch, then hop back home later the same day. The airplane was ready and willing. But the weather wasnt cooperating as I wanted. The destination airport offered its own challenges. And while I was instrument-current, I wasnt as proficient with low IFR as I would have liked.

Geographic Risks

The Pacific Northwest, for the purposes of this article, includes the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and parts of Montana and Wyoming. Thats a huge hunk of territory and comprises more than 250,000 square miles for Washington, Oregon and Idaho alone. The region includes two major mountain ranges-the Cascades and the Northern Rockies-and many smaller ones, as well as several major river basins. There are major cities in the region, such as Seattle, Portland and Boise, but also thousands of square miles of largely empty land and wilderness.

Negligent Maintenance

Vintage aircraft often have vintage owners. Familiarity being a source of contempt, long-time owners of aircraft seeing little activity may also see little need to perform preventive maintenance or conduct regular inspections. It was just fine when I parked it; what could possibly have broken while it was sitting in a hangar? can be a familiar refrain to pilots who have owned the same airplane for a significant time. After a while, the pilot/owner is so familiar with the aircraft, he or she can tell somethings wrong just by the slipstream noise.

Fresh Out Of The Paint Shop

A few years ago, an engineer, friend and pilot shared a story about retrieving his Cessna 182RG from the paint shop. Before he took the plane out for a run-up and test flight, he asked his even more meticulous engineer-spouse do the preflight. When she did, she discovered something rather important. The bolts and nuts that connected the elevators were just hand-tightened, unsecured by cotter pins. The bolts and nuts securing the primary pitch control surfaces were essentially ready to fall out. Not good. My friend managed a major nuclear facility in Idaho, and he shared the story with his workforce as an example why operators should trust, but verify others work.

NTSB Reports

After overflying the destination runway, the crew made a steeper-than-normal approach to the 3880-foot-long runway due to terrain. According to the captain, a bump was felt near the threshold during the landing but it was not extreme. As the propellers were reversed, the airplane veered to the right. The crew corrected and the airplane tracked straight for about 2000 feet before veering sharply right, exiting the runway and spinning 180 degrees. Inspection of the runway threshold revealed several four-foot-tall piles of rocks and dirt.

Now What?

January 1, 2020, is fast approaching. Thats the date on which ADS-B Out surveillance gear will be required in certain U.S. airspace, basically where you need Mode C now. But you know that; this and other aviation publications have been beating that drum for most of a decade. As the industry nears a deadline weve all known about since 2010, its not unreasonable to look back at what additional technology ADS-B has spawned, then take a quick look at the crystal ball to try divining what might come next.

Over-Water Risks

Its an aviation clich that your single engine goes into automatic rough when crossing any significant body of water. To be sure, any engine problem while beyond gliding distance from land is a critical problem, even if you have more than one. When flying a single, its everything. Another clich is that most of us dont bother to analyze the real risks of overwater flying. Any water crossing of any significance-and wed put the Great Lakes, Hawaii and Bahamas in that basket-should be carefully planned to ensure risks are mitigated to acceptable levels. The thing is, both clichs are true more often than not.

Picking Up The Pieces

I spend a lot of my flying in the Idaho backcountry, where there are a lot of challenging but worthwhile airstrips. But it's not a forgiving environment since go-arounds can be problematic and density altitude means pilots may not be accustomed to the reduced performance. After decades in the business, Patrick has a lot of lived experience seeing a wide variety of crashed planes, especially in the backcountry. As a window into answering the eternal question "Why do pilots crash?" I felt his insights would be valuable.

Top Five Owner Maintenance Tasks

The FAA's FAR 43.3 says "the holder of a pilot certificate [other than a sport pilot certificate] issued under Part 61 may perform preventive maintenance on any aircraft owned or operated by that pilot which is not used under Part 121, 129, or 135...." Appendix A of FAR 43, meanwhile, details what tasks are considered "preventive maintenance." Everything we're suggesting in this article flows from Part 43's definition of what constitutes preventive maintenance (PM). If you're not afraid of getting some grease under your fingers, you can save a lot of time and money performing regular maintenance tasks yourself. Here are our top five projects you may consider performing.

All Or Nothing?

The question is as old as the powered aviation itself: Assuming a single-engine airplane, if power is lost immediately after takeoff, should you land straight ahead or try to get back to the airport? This magazine has often addressed the question, including a January 2006 article by spinmeister Rich Stowell. Rich detailed the results of a simulator-based study examining "the feasibility of successfully executing a 180-degree turnaround following an engine failure at 500 feet agl." The study concluded that practicing the maneuver boosted its success rate, but landing straight ahead (or nearly so) had a higher success rate.

Riding Shotgun

If you're like me, one of the first goals I assigned myself after earning my private pilot certificate was to add the instrument rating. For other pilots, VFR-only flying may be where adding certificates and ratings stops but the education continues. The daunting task of putting trust fully into your instruments and air traffic controllers is a bridge some pilots won't cross. But in the natural progression of pilot certificates and ratings, adding the instrument rating is a common goal after getting through the private checkride.

Airworthiness Concerns

Yet, as with all airplanes as time marches on, wear and tear take a toll on the way various mechanisms work, and better designs often are available to replace them. That's especially true when it comes to the PA-28 fleet's sidewall-mounted fuel selector, the current design of which now is in its third generation. The original design-generation 1, or Gen1-did not have much in the way of a detent protecting against inadvertent repositioning, nor does it prevent over-rotation leading to unintended movement to the OFF position. These characteristics aren't the most desirable in a fuel selector assembly, especially since the component is mounted in the sidewall under the pilot's left knee, where it can be difficult to view.