Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Aviation’s “Little” Emergencies


How to handle those in-flight problems that aren’t necessarily life threatening


If that's not practical, turn on every light in the airplane and enter the pattern with a continuous hard wing wag, preferably to 30 degrees or more. Once a controller spots the wag, he'll very likely grab the light gun and give you either a red or green flashing light. If you're like me (and I know I am) and haven't seen a light signal in 30 years, you should still be able to decipher the general meaning of red or green lights.

Instrument failures are becoming less common these days with the advent of glass panels and the inevitable set of backup instruments, but malfunctions still happen. I ferried an old but generally well-maintained Duke from Fargo, N.D., to Amman, Jordan, and Abu Dhabi, UAE, and back seven times in the '80s, and I lost a total of a dozen instruments, everything from a tachometer and several fuel gauges to an oil pressure gauge, a vacuum gauge, an altimeter and even an airspeed indicator. (Fortunately, the airplane was equipped with copilot instruments for the last two readouts.)

Here again, though, a backup, battery-powered GPS can be a life-saver in providing both altitude and airspeed information. Remember, however, the latter will be groundspeed, not indicated airspeed. If you're flying an ILS into a 30-knot headwind in an A-36 Bonanza, you may have to look at a 60-knot or slower approach speed.
Reflexively, I tapped the top of the rudder pedals to make certain I had brake pressure. I didn't. Both pedals went all the way to the ground. Oh well, probably just need to pump them up, I thought. That didn't work, either.
Garmin even offers a special electronic page on its portables that provides a pseudo-panel with miniature gauges that give you representations of airspeed, altitude, rate of climb, heading and turn coordinator, along with distance to next waypoint and estimated time en route.

If there's no GPS on board, you may be left to estimate your approach speed by power setting and angle of attack. Those pilots who fly the same type of aircraft most of the time may have it easier than others. If you can approximate the glide angle during approach, you should be within 10-15 knots of your typical approach speed. That would be sloppy flying with a full set of instruments, but it should get you safely to the ground without an ASI.

Brake failure is another of those minor emergencies that may not be so minor under some circumstances. I was ferrying the first Extra 400 from Germany to Phoenix, Ariz., several years ago and was shooting the 19 ILS approach into Reykjavik in light snow. Runway 19 has a slight hump in the middle with a downhill slope on the opposite side headed for a short lava beach and a bay just behind it. The weather was reasonably decent, about 500 feet overcast and two miles visibility, and I broke out with a good view of the runway.

Reflexively, I tapped the top of the rudder pedals to make certain I had brake pressure. I didn't. Both pedals went all the way to the floor. Oh well, probably just need to pump them up, I thought. That didn't work, either.



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