A few weeks ago, New York was experiencing an extended period of rainy weather, accompanied by what seemed like constant low overcasts, reduced visibility and winds that were designed to test the quality of airplane tiedown ropes. I was really looking forward to the break in the weather that had been forecast for the coming weekend.
The latest NTSB statistics suggest a decrease in general aviation accidents
This past March, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released preliminary accident statistics for 2004. The numbers show a welcome overall safety trend for general aviation (GA), with total accidents going down from 1,741 in 2003 to 1,614 in 2004. The accident rate decreased from 6.77 per 100,000 flight hours in 2003 to 6.22 in 2004. That’s a drop of more than 8%.
Current ELT systems can make life difficult for search and rescue
Sometime in 2009, the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system will no longer be receiving distress signals on today’s common distress frequencies, 121.5 MHz and 243.0 MHz. Instead, the satellites will monitor only 406 MHz, a frequency that’s being phased in for civilian use.
Using too much rudder can create structural in-flight failures
On November 12, 2001, American Airlines flight 587 crashed at Belle Harbor, N.Y., shortly after taking off from John F. Kennedy International Airport. All 260 people on board the airplane and five people on the ground were killed. The investigation began pointing to the likelihood that the airplane’s vertical stabilizer and rudder broke off because of full-rudder deflection.
When it comes to figuring out what caused an airplane to crash, the first and most obvious clues often lead to a plausible, but ultimately incorrect, explanation. A case in point is an accident that occurred on June 15, 2003, at Jeannette, Pa. A Cessna 205 went down, killing the pilot and three skydivers.
Practicing how to handle runaway controls can prevent a major catastrophe
Many private pilots who were trained in airplanes using manual trim wheels, cranks or knobs have transitioned to aircraft equipped with electric trim without being trained to recognize a runaway trim condition. A malfunctioning trim control switch, relay or other electrical component can cause the trim motor to run out of control, ultimately moving the trim surfaces to dangerous positions.
Underlining the importance of medical certification
When the new sport-pilot rules, which came into effect on September 1, 2004, were under development, one aspect that received loud applause was the proposed relaxation of medical-certification requirements. The promise was that a motor vehicle driver’s license could be used in lieu of the FAA medical certificate under the assumption that if you’re medically safe enough to drive, you’re also healthy enough to fly a light, low-powered, relatively slow aircraft in day-VFR conditions.
Lessons gleaned from the big birds can teach us how to become safer pilots
A Boeing 727 is different from the airplanes that most of us fly. Nevertheless, there are some things that we can learn from the NTSB’s recently completed report on an accident involving a FedEx cargo 727, which was flown into trees and terrain during the pre-dawn hours of July 26, 2002.
The NTSB’s latest safety recommendation targets the dangers of carbon monoxide leaks caused by defective exhaust systems
Against the background of an aging fleet of general-aviation, piston-powered airplanes, the NTSB suggested that it’s time for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to take a closer look at engine mufflers and do more to eliminate potential hazards posed by mufflers that have deteriorated.
Understanding the signs of hypoxia may just get you out of trouble
One of the subjects that is frequently emphasized in the materials that are published by the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Aeromedical Education Division is hypoxia, which is more commonly referred to as “oxygen starvation.” The FAA points out that hypoxia is insidious in its onset. It sneaks up on you, and you lose the ability to sense that something is going wrong.
Does self-induced pressure to continue a flight supercede everything else?
The difference between a safe pilot and one with an enhanced chance of becoming an accident statistic often is found in the ability to detach oneself from the emotional and social aspects of flying. Have you properly planned for the flight or will you be playing catch-up once you get off the ground? Are your qualifications and experience sufficient for the expected flight conditions?
Using average weights for calculations may not keep the aircraft within safe limits
Barely a day goes by without a story in the news about obesity in America and how people are putting on more and more weight. Not you and me, of course! Nevertheless, it’s an important issue in aviation.
One consequence of the nation’s economic downturn and the accompanying slump in general aviation was that some maintenance shops were forced to consolidate or close down, and many mechanics had to consider alternative careers. The result for airplane owners was the increased difficulty in obtaining high-quality maintenance services at a reasonable cost.
It’s both the pilot’s and mechanic’s responsibility to find faulty equipment
While the FAA makes the pilot responsible for determining whether or not an aircraft that he or she is about to fly is airworthy, the pilot must rely to a great extent on what others have determined about the airplane. It’s relatively easy for a pilot to check paperwork to determine whether or not an aircraft has undergone required inspections, to check that compliance with airworthiness directives is current and to ensure that required documents are on board.
The NTSB has released its final report on the October 25, 2002, accident in which U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and seven others were killed at Eveleth, Minn. The twin-engine turboprop King Air A100 didn’t have a cockpit voice recorder, so there was no possibility of investigators learning what the pilot and copilot might have said to each other about the way things were progressing during the VOR approach to Eveleth. Investigators had to rely on other things to figure out what caused the airplane to experience an aerodynamic stall at a critically low altitude. In reconstructing the accident scenario, investigators used radar data, ATC audiotapes, aircraft performance numbers, interviews and a large body of experience derived from investigating other accidents.
The ASRS collects pilots’ admitted blunders so that others can gain knowledge from them
One of the best things that the FAA ever did to promote aviation safety was to provide immunity from FAR violations prosecution for pilots who voluntarily report problems and incidents to NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) before the FAA gets wind of what went on. During most months, NASA’s ASRS receives about 2,000 to 3,000 reports from pilots, controllers and mechanics. Quite a bit of the information works its way into studies of various safety issues.
Crosswinds can be deadly, even for the most experienced pilot
With apologies to Margaret Mitchell, most pilots would welcome the opportunity to be “gone with the wind” and let Mother Nature help keep a lid on upwardly creeping fuel costs. Just a few days ago, a friend of mine found that favorable winds aloft coupled with a direct-to-destination IFR routing cut more than a half-hour off the usual trip home to New York after a business meeting in Ohio. Even better, there was an absence of shear and turbulence, making for a smooth, quick ride. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. From time to time, National Transportation Safety Board investigators have to look at situations in which the capabilities of the pilot and/or the aircraft were exceeded by wind conditions.
Step back during the preflight and make sure the controls are in line
Back when I was a student pilot, I developed a habit during the preflight inspection of stepping back and pausing to get an overall visual impression of the control surfaces on the airplane. It started after I had noticed that one of the ailerons on a Cherokee I was about to take out for a solo flight didn’t look quite right. From a distance, it was easy to see that while the aileron on one side was in alignment, the other aileron was sagging significantly.