GAARMS Report: May 2016
The first 4 months of 2016 are now behind us, and we have only had 2 fatal aircraft accidents. Overall, our general aviation community is doing quite well – in fact, very well. While certainly not trying to diminish the 2 fatal accidents in any way, neither were directly indicative of the average GA community, that is to say, flying “normal” GA-type aircraft that most of us fly, like a Cessna, Piper, Bonanza or a Cirrus. One involved a P-51 Mustang, a vintage warbird, and the other a weight-shift “Trike,” both very unique aircraft. Those of us who fly the typical GA aircraft can still learn from those accidents. Every aircraft type, from a hot air balloon to a Gulf Stream G650, requires good, well-trained, and disciplined pilots. None of us are immune to mistakes, which is why it is so important to look at any and all accidents to understand what happened so that you, me, and others do not make the same mistakes.
I recently read a great article about landing accidents. It seems like there are a LOT of landing accidents happening, but very, very few are ever fatal – just fender-benders! However, when the landing is an OFF AIRPORT landing, then things can be much more difficult. Regular landings need follow through – you are not done flying the airplane until it is shut down and chocked. We always hear about stabilized approaches, which are absolutely essential for instrument approaches and just plain ‘ol approaches to the runway, but what about stabilized landings? Staying on centerline? Stabilized speed control? (Notice a theme here?) Every day when I go flying, either by myself or with a student, I hope to learn something new (or have another AHA moment) that makes my day, and, hopefully, makes the student’s day. Everybody knows on takeoff and climb out, you need to carry right rudder to counteract torque and “P” factor. Hmmm… “P” factor is the left turning (yawing) tendency of the airplane in a nose high attitude, at a relatively slow airspeed, and a high power setting. Well, after years of instructing students how to fly and land, and every landing reminding the student to keep the airplane lined up on the center line, which seemed to be an impossible task because they always seemed to land left of centerline and drift left of centerline, I had an epiphany – my “AHA “ moment! That dang right rudder! So I experimented with the aircraft in the flare and continuing to flare to slow down to stall speed at touchdown. As I slowed down by carefully, slowly raising the nose, the nose slowly drifted left. WHY? “P” factor!!! “Of course, you dummy,” I said to myself. The airplane is in a nose high attitude, slow, and “P” factor is still in play, although not as powerful as during takeoff. Amazingly, I discovered – learned (YES, even at my age I can still learn new things!) - that carrying a little right rudder – I said a little, a little - during the flare fixed the drift problem while still emphasizing the sight picture of flying down the runway looking at the centerline where it disappears at the end of the runway. Hmmm, why didn’t my old flight instructor teach me that? Did he do that during landings subconsciously not realizing the student wasn’t? Did he just assume that I knew? Seems that several of my old instructors were old taildragger pilots and the rudder thing was just so natural to them, it was easy to assume the student just “knew it.” Yeah, yeah, I know, many of you think I am an old instructor, but a couple of thousand hours of tail wheel time does make the rudder thing subconscious. Teaching someone to fly requires retraining their brain that that thing in their hand – the yoke – IS NOT a steering wheel! The rudder is a critical control surface on the airplane, and learning how to use it is a critical part of flight training. So, during training, you have to do both, put emphasis on both the sight picture and the rudder, while continuing to emphasize staying on the centerline during roll out, whether it is the runway centerline or the taxiway centerline. Then there is the issue of placing the control surfaces in the correct position relative to wind conditions, but that is a story for another time.
My stepson, learning to fly back in Maryland, relayed this story to me. Seems he and his relatively new (and young) flight instructor were talking about night flying and the oxygen requirements for night flying. The instructor stated that any night flying above 5000 feet required the use of oxygen because of the night vision thing. My stepson politely disagreed with him saying, “Not true, it is only recommended.” They sort of went round and round about it – friendly banter – when the instructor asked him why he disagreed with that statement. He politely told him he had done some flying with his stepdad, yours truly, out in Flagstaff. If that rule were actually a rule, everyone who flies in Flagstaff would have to have an O2 bottle strapped to their side just to do takeoffs and landings in the pattern! The flight instructor, born and raised in Maryland (just a little bit above sea level except for the western part), had never experienced flying higher than 8000 ft in his life, so far, and was a little taken back by the fact Flagstaff is 7000ft above sea level, and just the pattern is higher than he ever normally flies! A classic case of the student teaching the master! No one can know everything about flying, which is why we need to share experiences, learn from each other’s discoveries, epiphanies, and, yes, sometimes mistakes. He also mentioned that night flying around Northern Arizona is very different than night flying around the Baltimore/Frederick, MD area, not to mention the Washington, DC SVFR airspace!!!
Just a Reminder – The new rule for student pilot licensing is now in effect. All applicants must now apply online through the IACRA system for a student pilot certificate, a new plastic license, that will be sent to the applicant. It does NOT replace the medical requirement. A student must still obtain a third class medical through a local AME using the FAA’s MedXpress system. The old paper student pilot certificate/medical is no longer in use. INSTRUCTORS – you may need to help any applicant through the IACRA process – it is NOT intuitive!!!
Speaking of the medical, perhaps that requirement will also disappear in the near future if the congress passes the FAA authorization bill that includes medical reform, doing away with the requirement for a private or recreational pilot to have a medical certificate, and only self-certifying, with an ordinary doctor’s review and signature. Stay tuned on this issue…