Accident Probes

Clock Runs Out

Pilots love control. From the first flying lesson on, instructors preach the need to be in control of the flight and the airplane.

And despite the fact that those FAA people on the radio are called controllers, most pilots secretly believe those folks are really coordinators. Theres no question whos really in control. After all, FAR 91.3 says the PIC is the final authority and you can do what you gotta do.

However, situations routinely develop where competent and qualified pilots who know what they have to do fall into the trap of letting outsiders dictate a course of events that run counter to the pilots safety. This goes beyond ATC, of course. Pilots find themselves pushed by...

Too Fast, Too Slow

Aviation is full of mysteries. Perhaps rooted in reality, they take on an almost mythical air about them. Pilots know they are true, without being able to justify that position and without really knowing where that knowledge came from.

The downwind turn, operating lean of peak and flying on the step have all been part of that aviation lore - and in fact may be so still for some pilots.

The fact is that many pilots treat their airplanes like its a complex remote control for a big screen TV. They know only enough about its operation to meet their anticipated daily needs. Instead of studying the book on the airplane and engine, they put their effort into learning to fly instrument a...

Tragic Turn

Malibu loses engine on takeoff and the pilot hightails it to the runway, only to come up short on altitude and airspeed.

Boiling Trouble

Take an 80-degree summer afternoon, clear skies, high pressure and light winds. Add an airplane, a friend or spouse, and pick a destination a few hours away. While youre at it, throw in the family dog.

This is a scenario many general aviation pilots would consider the ultimate in personal aviation - the perfect time to embark on what may be the perfect trip. For one Colorado pilot, however, the prognosis wasnt so sunny.

The pilot had accumulated more than 14,500 hours, many of them as a Part 135 helicopter pilot. He had single and multi ratings and instrument ratings for both airplanes and helicopters. He had once been a flight instructor. Even though he was retired, he still held a...

Eye Spy

Nearly every pilot has stuck his head in the lions mouth.

You realize its happened only after the crisis has passed. You have the metallic taste of fear in your mouth and the pounding of your pulse to remind you of the fleetingness of your mortality. Its not much fun, but at least you have seen the enemy and will have a better shot at recognizing him next time.

If there is a next time.

Busy airspace is one place where constant vigilance is the order of the day. During good weather, that vigilance depends on scanning outside the airplane and being alert to the dynamics of the airspace as well as the possibility of traffic.

Some pilots, particularly those who routinely fly IF...

Going Up, Going Down

Theres a classic childrens story in which a little train says I think I can, I think I can - and lo and behold, it can. The power of mind over body is ably summed up in the tale, as it is in cliches such as when theres a will, theres a way.

But whos fooling whom?

Sure, there are times when you can suck it up and get through whatever it is you have to get through. Who hasnt had to work through a deadline or clear a fallen tree before dawn or pull an all-nighter through college? Sometimes you just have to do it.

But for every time you manage to endure the agony, there are countless times when you punt. With your exhaustion swaddling you like a Los Angeles smog, you wearily...

Unseen, Unheard

[IMGCAP(1)]Heres a news flash: There is no such thing as a perfect flight. Every pilot is forced to examine the airplane he is about to fly, his own skills and the demands of the mission, and make judgment calls about the risks involved and how to minimize them.

Sometimes the calls are easy, with the intended flight well within the limitations of the airplane and pilot or so far outside those capabilities that a decision is black and white. Most times, however, the choice requires not so much a go/no-go decision as an analysis of where the pitfalls of the flight might be.

In those cases, a pilots experience leads to certain assumptions, for better or for worse. Just as you may expec...

Low Time Surprise

[IMGCAP(1)]Check the ads for used airplanes and its pretty clear that most buyers are looking for a 1970s era airplane with low airframe and engine time. The Holy Grail, it seems, is a mid- to late-70s model with under 2,000 hours.

Although the buyers intent is usually to find an airplane that has been well cared for, there are some cases where low time means neglected. Furthermore, many owners rely on operating hours when scheduling maintenance, not accepting the fact that many parts also need attention after the passage of time, even if the airplane has been on the ground.

The buyer of a 1975 Cessna 177RG thought hed found a good deal when he bought the airplane Dec. 30, 1999....

Experienced, But How?

[IMGCAP(1)]Being a responsible pilot means there are a lot of things you cant take for granted. Proficiency, maintenance, charts, briefings, inspections, review and judgment are all routine parts of the game.

Some people play it well and play it to win. Some play it to have fun or pass the time. Some play because they think they should. Some shouldnt play at all, but do.

Accidents that involve the latter group are easy for more serious pilots to dismiss. They reason that by virtue of a more businesslike approach they are immune from many of the troubles that befall their unfortunate brethren.

As you go up the aviation hierarchy to more flying hours, more ratings and bigger airpl...


You often see what you expect to see rather than whats really there, a deadly combination on a Sarasota runway.

Mad Mixture

Old airplane and twin-engine psychology take Apache pilot down the wrong road toward emergency landing.

Too Much, Too Soon

As much as it pains some people to admit it, light airplanes are seldom the kind of go-anywhere-anytime transportation tools most pilots would like them to be. Generally speaking, the smaller the airplane, the less capable it is to perform all-weather duty.

The limitations of flying light aircraft are such that weather can easily overwhelm any pilot who does not both recognize and accept the fact that sometimes the wheels ought to stay on the ground. While thats a lesson instructors and examiners try to instill in every private and instrument applicant, sometimes the lesson comes too late to do the pilot much good.

The temptation to push the envelope of both airplane and pilot is stro...