Out of Turn

I turned back around and looked at the instruments. There was something wrong.


I have approximately 1,600 hours as a private pilot, with about 400 hours IFR. I was still a little concerned about a recent IFR flight from the East Coast to Nashville in my Saratoga.

The weather at point of departure was overcast and windy, with no Pireps of tops, and a front was rapidly passing through the area. The western Carolina Mountains can pose some interesting and difficult problems for low-level flight, VFR or IFR. The forecast for later in the evening was clear.

I departed IFR in the early afternoon and broke out into the clear above 7,000 as I climbed to 10,000. The winds were strong and out of the west, but I encountered no significant turbulence en route to Nashville. After I crossed the mountains it was clear and sunny. The trip was a piece of cake.

I was flying to Nashville to pick up two company salesmen and return them home that evening. Having just come from my destination, and knowing the forecast; I did not recheck the weather even though Id had to wait a couple of hours for them to show up for departure.

I filed IFR for 11,000 to pick up favorable winds, remain above the clouds and have plenty of room over the mountains on the return trip.

My passengers arrived and were getting their luggage out to the plane, when I noticed clouds moving in rapidly from the west. It was already late afternoon, beginning to sprinkle rain and starting to get dark. I got my passengers and their luggage in the plane and quickly got my IFR clearance and taxied for departure.

I was thinking I could beat the weather heading east. As I departed, I immediately became IMC in light rain. The temperature was just above freezing. The winds had picked up and the ride was moderately turbulent.

As the plane was climbing through 8,000 feet in IMC in the dark, I was talking to Memphis Center. ATC advised me of a pilot report of icing conditions in the area. At the same time my rear seat passenger was notifying me that he might be ill.

The plane was climbing nicely on autopilot. I first reached for my flashlight to check for icing; trace ice was beginning to form on the wings. I notified ATC that I would like to level at 9,000 feet due to trace ice. ATC immediately approved 9,000. I then turned around to see if I could locate the airsickness bag for my rear seat passenger. I found it and handed him the bag.

I turned back around and looked at the instruments for the first time in a few seconds. There was something wrong. The artificial horizon was showing the plane in a right bank and upon further review I noticed that we were descending at approximately 1,000 fpm and rapidly picking up airspeed. It was dark, we were IMC and none of my internal senses indicated anything of the sort.

It took a few seconds before I could convince myself to believe the instruments. I throttled back, leveled the wings and found myself level at 8,500 feet on a heading of due west. I had made a descending right turn of 180 degrees and had just experienced spatial disorientation for the first time. It was spooky.

I turned the plane around 180 degrees in a standard rate turn back to my original heading and climbed to 9,000 feet. Fortunately, neither my passengers nor ATC ever noticed the problem.

We broke out of IMC west of the mountains and the sky was clear on the rest of the trip home.

From this flight Ive discovered the wisdom of always checking the weather before departing, even if you think you know conditions. I also got a reinforcement of the need to fly the airplane first, even when on autopilot, and especially at night and IMC and not to let distractions deter you from flying the airplane first.

Other lessons to consider: You dont outline the precise conditions under which you discovered the ice, but you might want to reconsider leveling off at the altitude at which youre picking it up. Check the OAT during the climb, assess the moisture present, and seek out air either too cold or too warm for icing.


Listening to the Machine
On my first dual IFR cross-country, our clearance for the return flight required us to climb through a layer of clouds. Although it was December and well below freezing, we remained free of ice and broke out on top into the moonlight.

ATC wouldnt give us the ILS approach to our home airport without a hold, so we accepted a visual approach and my instructor put me back under the hood. After landing, she began searching the panel for indications of the source of an increasingly intrusive, rhythmic buzz in our headsets. Nothing inappropriate seemed to have been left on. We had left the taxiway and were halfway back up the ramp when the radios and intercom failed.

The voltmeter showed only 10 volts, and after shutting down the engine we checked the alternator belt. It looked fine. It was only while clearing our gear out of the cabin that I finally noticed that the 60-amp alternator breaker had blown some time during the flight. The battery had lasted just long enough to get us down and off the runway.

Had we accepted the hold, we would have gotten the chance to practice lost comm procedures while dealing with an electrical failure in IMC at night.Lesson learned: New IFR pilots shouldnt get so wrapped up in scanning the flight instruments that they forget to glance at the rest of the panel occasionally, too. If wed lost oil pressure that night, it could have gotten ugly.

Other lessons to consider: If it was well below freezing, you could have expected to remain clear of ice, as frozen moisture wont stick to the airplane anyway. Second, while you dont say what kind of airplane you were in, the fact that your flight instructor also overlooked the breaker when searching the panel for the cause indicates that your training may be missing a technical component that ought to be there.


Incoming Bogey
It was a beautiful day, light winds, clear skies, and just perfect for showing someone new the basics of flight. I have always enjoyed showing non-pilots the joys of flying. On this particular day, I was flying a Cessna 172 with my 14-year-old son and his friend as passengers. They both say they want to go to the Air Force Academy and become fighter pilots.

During my passenger briefings, I routinely tell them to look out the window for other aircraft. When they see one they are to let me know and we will always assume they do not see us. Most of my passengers are very good at that and even point out the 747s flying overhead at 35,000 feet.

Since my son has flown with me before, I decided to put him in the back right seat and let his friend right in the front right seat, which seemed to make the friend very happy.

We were cruising along at about 2,500 feet with my sons friend holding the yoke. I was very impressed with his flying and think he will make a great pilot. Then, my son said, Airplane, 3 oclock. I looked and saw another Cessna on a collision course with us. He was close, real close, too close.

I yelled, Hold on! and pulled the yoke up and to the left. I knew impact was imminent. So I waited to see if I would have enough control left afterward to limp back to the uncontrolled airport three miles away, or at least land under control in the meadow below. After a pause, nothing happened. I figured that the other pilot had seen us and dove to miss us.

I leveled off and looked to my 7 oclock low. I expected to see the other aircraft much lower and maybe heading away, but to my surprise he was at the same altitude and heading as he had been before. He did not did change a thing in his flying. Maybe he didnt see us?

I asked my son if the other pilot had seen us and he said, Oh yeah! He described the other pilot as white with a white shirt, dark hair and big white-eyes.

My son later asked his friend about the experience. My sons friend said that when it was over he looked at my son and me and saw that we were calm, so he figured that this must happen every day.

To this day, my son refers to the experience as his, near-death experience.

Lessons learned: Be careful near airports, especially uncontrolled airports and use your crew resource management.

P.S. Both of the boys still want to go to the Air Force Academy and become Fighter Pilots.

Other lessons to consider: Weve noticed that any time a pilot relinquishes the flight controls there is the tendency to relax a bit, especially when it comes to the traffic scan. We applaud your use of resources, but encourage you and others who allow non-pilots some stick time to keep up a vigilant scan – particularly on the passengers side of the airplane and the side of the airplane that faces traffic inbound to an uncontrolled airport.


Pilot – or Miner?
I was anxious to take some friends for a ride, to give them a flying experience and to show them the sights, including seeing their house from the air. Wed had a couple of days of inclement weather, but this Sunday was CAVU via a nice high pressure system.

As I logged the start time on the rental C-172, I noted I was the first to use the plane in a couple of days. I resolved to pay special attention to things that happen over time, such as water in gas, hangar rash and birds.

I am pretty conscientious about checklists and worked through them methodically, while explaining to my two passengers what I was doing. I would be flying near Class B airspace, but as long as I stayed under 3000 feet I would have no need to contact ATC. Being in a moderately mountainous area, however, meant I would want to stay as high as practical.

We made the hop over to our destination uneventfully, although one of the passengers was somewhat uneasy. I was doing my best to convey supreme confidence in flying and my abilities, but I had the gnawing suspicion something wasnt right.

It began as my passengers were having trouble identifying details on the ground that I could see but they could not. One of the passengers began feeling queasy as we circled over their house several times, so soon it was, Lets go back to the airport, now, please.

En-route to the uncontrolled airport I began a descent at cruise speed to coincide with a 45-degree entry to the downwind at pattern altitude of 1000 feet agl. The lower I got, the more something felt wrong.

When I was established on downwind, I knew my altitude was wrong. I was way too high, but I decided to proceed with the landing in deference to my now green passenger.

Turning base, I finally chose to ignore my altimeter and fly the rest of the pattern according to what felt right. Power all the way back, recheck carb heat and apply full flaps rather than slipping it with these passengers.

We landed only a little long on the 3,000-foot runway. As I cleared the active and retracted the flaps, I began a cockpit check. What about that altimeter, anyway? Hmmm. Eight hundred feet is close enough with the airport elevation at 790.

Look again. Yikes! Thats really indicating -200 feet. How often do we check the little hand when all our flying is below 10,000 feet? Obviously, I hadnt checked it.

It takes more than blowing through a checklist to take the proper action. Sure, Id put the big hand on the 8, but cranked the knob the wrong way to get there. Obviously the weather had changed the atmospheric pressure dramatically since the plane had last been used and I just cranked it to airport elevation without thinking about the direction I went.

Maybe my passengers were having trouble seeing their house because I was at 3,800feet instead of 3,000. I also realize that for about a half-hour I was probably 800 feet into the bottom of that Class B airspace, but I assume that my transponder was telling ATC I was 1000 feet lower. If Im right about this, it seems like a potential flaw in our system.

Were taught to trust our instruments. But then weve got to give them the best chance for working right. Heres something so fundamental, but after 30 years of flying, it just slipped by, maybe because Id never encountered it before.

Other lessons to consider: Even assuming the airport from which you departed didnt have an AWOS, it still makes sense to check the Kollsman window to ensure your setting is reasonable. Its kind of like using a slide rule in the old days, youd get the digits but had to infer the decimal places.

As for that potential flaw you think might be there, think again. Your encoder-based Mode C altitude report is not adjusted by changing the reading in the Kollsman window. You could indeed have been busted.


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