Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Great Places Not To Have An Accident

Don’t spend so much time looking at scenery that you neglect to look at flight necessities

SAFETY FIRST. The Grand Canyon may be one of the most beautiful and rewarding places to fly, but the high-altitude airport also can present some difficult challenges.
One of the truly wondrous things about general aviation is the ease with which you can reach vacation sites that would be a hassle via road, ferry or airline transportation. GA also can make an easy day trip out of what otherwise might be an exhausting weekend. Pilots, however, need to be careful that fun and adventure don’t replace the seriousness and responsibility that must be applied to any flight.

Grand Canyon National Park Airport (GCN)
The Grand Canyon offers incomparable vistas, and sometimes difficult flight conditions as one day-tripping pilot discovered. The Grand Canyon National Park Airport in Arizona has a runway that’s 8,999 feet long, but the field elevation is 6,609 feet MSL. A pilot must pay special attention to density altitude and aircraft loading/performance calculations. Although the pilot of a Cessna 172RG tried to get it right, the NTSB reported he was slightly off the mark. The airplane took off, but settled back to the ground in a field about one mile south of the airport. The private pilot and both passengers received minor injuries, and the airplane was substantially damaged. The pilot had flown from the Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, Calif., earlier in the day. This was to be the return flight. Weather was VFR, with scattered clouds at 5,500 feet AGL, an overcast ceiling at 8,000 feet, and the wind from 260 degrees at 9 knots, gusting to 15. The Safety Board’s investigator calculated the density altitude to be 7,728 feet. The pilot had a total time of 206 hours with 51 in type.

Witnesses saw the airplane departing runway 21. After the main gear lifted off, the airplane flew in ground effect along the runway, then continued in ground effect until impact.

The pilot told investigators that after the airplane lifted off, he retracted the landing gear in an attempt to increase the climb rate, but it wouldn’t climb. The pilot then decided to try landing on the remaining runway and extended the gear. By the time the gear was extended, he was out of runway and had to maneuver to avoid trees.

When investigators looked at the wreckage, they found the mixture control set in the full-rich (forward) position. The Pilot Operating Handbook for the airplane notes that prior to takeoff from fields above 3,000 feet elevation, the mixture should be leaned to give maximum power in a full-throttle, static run-up.

After speaking with an FAA inspector regarding a flight assessment test, the pilot told the NTSB that he moved the engine, propeller and mixture controls forward following the accident when he was retrieving personal items from the airplane. The pilot reported having 12 hours of flight time operating out of airports above 3,000 feet MSL. Following the accident, the pilot underwent five hours of dual training at airports over 7,100 feet MSL. The pilot also noted that he may have encountered wind shear or turbulence as he retracted the gear during the attempted takeoff.


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