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Managing Risk In Aircraft Certification

Most of my articles for this journal focus on managing the risk of flying piston-powered general aviation aircraft, with examples of good and poor risk management. But risk management is at least equally critical in the world of operating airliners and turbine-powered transport category aircraft. Recent air carrier accidents provide illustration and lessons relevant to operating small general aviation aircraft, especially when designing and certifying them. In fact, and just as during flight operations, the job of managing risk in the design and certification is to identify, assess and mitigate that risk. These procedures apply even more objectively when using rigid design criteria, especially when they involve transport category aircraft.

Ill Be Missing You

We all know how to fly a missed approach. We probably did a handful of them on our instrument checkrides, and when were out practicing approaches, even in a sim, we most often go missed. We may not be flying a full missed approach procedure as published, but we still have to reconfigure the airplane and climb away. When were practicing, we know how the approach will terminate: by going around at the missed approach point. Its what we expect when practicing.

Air Mass Storms

I used to ground myself when I saw a forecast of thunderstorm weather. I had an immediate visceral response rooted in memories of growing up in Kansas, seeing vast tornado-spawning squall lines, their blue-green tint indicating they were pregnant with hail. At age 11, I watched a barn across the road explode in one of those storms, flying in pieces across the fields, followed by a barrage of baseball-sized hail. Surely you cant fly when convective weather and thunderstorms are nearby or on the way, can you? Well, Dorothy, sometimes you can. You just need to know what to look for and what to avoid.

Power And Pitch

If youre like me, youve been watching the ongoing saga of Boeing and its 737 MAX. The gist of it for our purposes is that the new MAX versions of the 737 are powered by larger-diameter engines than the type was originally designed to accommodate. Since the 1980s-when Boeing switched from the types original low-bypass Pratt & Whitney JT8D engines to the CFM International CFM56-the reduced ground clearance when mounting high-bypass powerplants featuring improved fuel economy has required flattening the bottom of the cowlings. It was cheaper and easier than redesigning the landing gear, which is too short to accommodate the larger engines.

Behind The Curve

The only time Ive performed what I consider to have been a for-real high-altitude takeoff, it went fine. I was at Albuquerque, N.M.s Double Eagle II airport, elevation some 5800 feet. It wasnt the middle of summer, but it was a warm, sunny fall afternoon. I dont recall which runway I used, but it offered more than enough length for my Debonair, which carried only me, some gear and full fuel. As Id been trained, I leaned the engine before the takeoff and let the airplane fly itself off the runway. I handled it gently until gaining enough airspeed to establish a proper climb and I had some altitude.

Other Airplanes

For example, a large flying club I was in a few years back had a pair of Cessna Cardinal RGs. They were getting a bit long in the tooth, but were roomy and relatively fast, and they were good cross-country airplanes. They also were configured basically the same, with two nav/comms but little else: no autopilot, for example, GPS or DME. After getting to know them both, I came to prefer the blue-and-white one over the orange version, since it was a bit younger and cleaner. Neither let me down, but one was sold to someone outside the club and, shortly thereafter, another pilot landed the remaining Cardinal RG gear-up.

Dark Acceleration

I like to fly at night. The air generally is smoother, theres less traffic, the ATC frequencies are not as busy and ground illumination, the moon and the stars can compete in one of the best light shows youll ever see. Of course, humans were never meant to fly in the first place, and we often have difficulty actually seeing things at night. So we need to be mindful of night flyings risks and adopt procedures or limitations mitigating them.

Buddy System

Normally, I might have panicked, but with my experienced copilot at my side, I stayed calm. We talked through our options and decisions along as I continued to fly the plane. I began a series of small adjustments to the throttle and mixture to see how the engine responded. We quickly discovered these changes only made matters worse, so we left the settings as is. My buddy reminded me to stay high-altitude is our friend-and we looked for landing spots in case things deteriorated.

Cockpit Stress

Knowing of the low overcast, if that pilots autopilot had this auto-capture feature, his motivation would have been to ease his workload and obviate spatial disorientation during transition into the clag. The effect of his action would have been to capture the airport elevation as target altitude. The TruTrak, at least, takes a few seconds to process and implement settings, so that the airplane would be expected to do exactly what it did: ascend into the clouds and a few seconds later return to the preset target altitude of the runway.

FAAs Latest Forecast

According to the assumptions the FAA used in its forecasting, the U.S. economy is projected to grow during the period, but more slowly than any other region in the world. Real gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the U.S. for the 20-year period is forecast at 1.8 percent while worldwide GDP growth is estimated at 2.8 percent. Only Europe, Africa and the Middle East are projected to see similar GDP growth, estimated to be 1.9 percent. The Asia/Pacific region leads the pack, with 4.0 percent growth projected over the next 20 years.

Cockpit Communication

I recently had the chance to chat with a long-time friend and pilot about some issues he had with an instructor while working through a flight review. The friend was concerned about the instructors critique of his flying, which included comments like, I didnt expect you to do that, and I would have done it differently. The friend wasnt necessarily complaining about the critique itself but the after-the-fact manner in which it was supplied. Ultimately, it undermined his confidence and he chose not to fly with that instructor again, taking his chances with someone different.

Superior Pulls Engines From Service

When we first learned of the breadth of the detonation problem, we contacted XP-400 engine owners and paid to have them ship their engines to our facility for evaluation, Superiors Bill Ross told sister publication Kitplanes. We disassembled, inspected and tested the key components in each engine, he said, but even after adjusting the ignition timing specification, the results were still unsatisfactory. In response, the company decided to ground affected engines and create a buyback program.