Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Still Relentless

You don’t see this every day! But if you do, will you be ready?

Over the years, I’ve read many experiences of others dealing with Maydays, and I’ve always been keen on the details of their actions during such emergencies. Good and bad, I listen and then think about how I might have acted or will act. Early on in racing, certain pilots who have mentored me made it clear that if you keep racing, the question won’t be whether you’ll have to deal with an emergency, but when! I’ve had my share, some small and some major, but every time something happens, my knowledge and understanding increase.

I’ve spent many hours visualizing the racecourse and thinking about what I would do at each pylon if faced with a problem. I can describe in detail a dead-stick landing from every pylon, assuming the plane keeps flying. When my prop blew off, I had already visualized leaving Pylon 8 and, rather than pulling hard to the center of the course, just rolling into downwind for runway 14. I developed this technique learning to fly aerobatics for contests. I don’t just think about each pylon, but I close my eyes and “fly” the entire track from pylon to ground. This takes some time, because you have to do it in several different conditions and emergencies.

Take the Thunder Mustang that crashed during a Mayday at the races on Sunday. I don’t want to second-guess anyone, but when you think about the conditions and high winds during that race, there was really only one possible runway to land, and unfortunately it wasn’t the best one. The wind was 190 at 25-35 knots, so before racing those conditions, you need to really think about leaving each pylon and making a beeline for the end of runway 18.

Or perhaps you’ll decide that the best option might just be a gear-up landing into the wind rather than risk a bad crosswind landing.

Think First
Through my training flying corporate jets, I’ve learned that the next move you make might be the one that kills you, so it’s critical to think first. It’s called an “error chain,” and in my mind, the first mistake you make in dealing with an emergency will only make the situation worse. The second mistake will get someone hurt, and the third will probably kill you.

At Reno, my prop departed, and the engine went silent in one second. The first thing I remember thinking was, “What could happen next?” I waited a moment to see if the plane would keep flying—this may sound funny, but this is really the thought I had. I knew I needed to roll left and get altitude, but I did it as smoothly as possible while evaluating the controllability of the aircraft. Was I going for altitude to jump out, or was the aircraft stable enough as it slowed to try a landing? Once I slowed to about 150 and had as much altitude as I thought I could get, I gave the elevator a good pull to see if anything else wanted to leave the formation.

When the control seemed good and I knew I had runway 14 made, I put the gear down. At this point, I remember how quiet and smooth it was, and how steep the approach was to keep the airspeed at 140 knots. Once I was over the numbers, I just tried my best not to screw up a perfectly good landing opportunity.

Learn from others. Prepare for the worst. Think before you act. Don’t let an emergency that you survive deter you from flying again. The knowledge learned makes you smarter, and sharing it with others is priceless.

Kevin Eldredge is an investor, business developer and transition manager. He’s an avid commercial pilot, air racer and aviator dedicated to the preservation of aviation in the U.S.

See our exclusive video interview with Kevin.


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