So far this year we have had only one fatal GA accident here in Arizona, the PA-24 Piper Comanche out of Scottsdale last month. That is already one too many, but only one in the past 5 months is an improvement over last year. Let’s keep that trend going and make 2018 the safest year ever.
Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) accidents continue to occur in general aviation despite enhanced technologies available in the cockpit. Watch this video (courtesy of the Anchorage, Alaska ACO and the FAA Safety Magazine) to learn more about the causes and potential mitigation strategies for addressing these accidents and improving safety in the national airspace system. The picture below is in the simulator from the video… click on the video and it should play.
The following picture is real life.
This was in a Cessna Caravan on approach to the small village airport of Ilaga, Papua, Indonesia while there last year doing consulting with Boeing on a safety audit on the abysmal safety record in the Papua, Indonesia Flight Information Region.
Look closely at the terrain warning on the displays in front of both the pilot and the co-pilot. Now check out the terrain in front of the aircraft. See that little white area right on top of the mag compass just to the left of the center post of the windshield? That is the airport – all 600 meters with a 15% upslope! What really makes it fun is once you pass the Final Approach Fix (FAF), you are committed - there is NO go-around. So, as you come up on the Final Approach Fix on the company designed, flight tested and approved visual-ONLY approach procedure, you have to have the aircraft all set up, in the landing configuration, on speed, on altitude, on a pre-determined rate of descent, with all your ducks in a row. Oh, did I mention, there is NO weather reporting, so it is a guess on what the winds are doing? Approaching the FAF, you compare indicated airspeeds on both the pilot-side and copilot-side to ground speed (Thank you GPS’s!), and if your ground speed is faster than indicated airspeed, but still within a certain (company determined) limit, you can continue the approach. However, if beyond the limit, you need to initiate the missed approach procedure right there, at the FAF. Any closer in to the airport, and there simply is not enough room, terrain-wise or aircraft performance-wise, to safely go-around. Pilot training, crew coordination, strict adherence to company policy and a large dose of common sense are absolute necessities. The only approved aircraft to fly these approaches are Cessna Caravans, Pilatus Porters and twin Otters, and only with a trained crew of two. Special training, certifications and log book endorsements are required for each airport.
And just in case you were wondering why I was there in Papua, Indonesia, I was working for Boeing Air Traffic Services. They were contracted to conduct an audit of the safety procedures and processes of the ATC system, the pseudo-FSS/AIS operations, weather observing operations, and the safety programs employed by the operators in that area. Why? Because the safety record in Papua is awful – they smash up a Caravan or a Porter every 2 months at these small airports and even damage or destroy larger aircraft, like 737’s, DH-6’s, ATR-42 and -72’s at the larger airports a couple of times a year!! It is a very challenging environment to operate in, airspace–wise, ATC-wise, terrain-wise and weather-wise….
Ok, back to Arizona. Summer is fast approaching, bringing high temperatures and creating density altitude (DA) concerns in the valley. In fact, DA may have played a part in the fatal crash at Scottsdale last month. If you plan to fly in northern Arizona, DA is, and will be, of significant concern. It is only late May as I write this, and we are already experiencing DA’s of 9000 feet and greater, and you can anticipate this summer to have days with DA’s in excess of 10,000 feet! And one more associated problem: Those high temperatures can, and will, have an impact on any iPad you have in the cockpit – they do NOT like heat!!
On top of that, monsoon season is approaching, and the associated thunderstorms can make for some interesting – and dangerous – flying conditions. A good preflight briefing and weather in the cockpit (Got ADS-B “In”?) can be a life saver.
Fred’s Perspective –
The other day I had a very interesting conversation with another pilot about learning how to fly and the actual art of flying. We were 180 degrees out of perspective. He is of the opinion all new aircraft should be as simple as possible to fly, i.e., almost totally automated. A single throttle, no mixture control, no prop control, push the button to start the motor, program the GPS and the flight director and just sit back and let the airplane take you. Let it navigate for you through the highway-in-the-sky, take you to the VNAV fix, auto-throttle back to start down the GPS-derived descent and arrival path to a landing. WOW, I thought, he really doesn’t want to be a pilot, just a passenger along for the ride in his magic airplane. Well, many of the new aircraft on the market today can do a lot of that, but the pilot needs to be a participant in the process for at least some of the functions. Don’t get me wrong, I like most of the automation capability in today’s airplanes, but I do not believe in abdicating my pilot responsibilities to the automation. Remember HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey?? “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that!” Heck, I even installed some of that technology into my 45-year old wood and fabric 1973 Bellanca Viking – and I really like it! But sometimes I hear myself say, “Hal, what are you doing now?”, and I have to take charge, disconnect the autopilot, the GPS steering or both, and manually fly the airplane (OMG!) and figure out what’s going on....
But I DO NOT like automation in the flight school primary training aircraft. Maybe I am a dinosaur, but I believe that initial pilot training, whether Sport, Recreational or Private, should be based on stick and rudder skills. If I were king (which in itself is a scary thought), all primary training would be in tail wheel aircraft with a stick between your legs and a tiny wheel on the back of the airplane (with a mind of its own) so you really understand just what that thing that sticks up off the back of your airplane (the rudder) does. You would learn the art of flying, of coordination, and when and how to fly uncoordinated, the absolute basics of aerodynamics. Student pilots would learn the art of navigation, of pilotage and VOR navigation, of map reading, not just punching in the destination on the GPS and following the magenta line. They would know how and why to calculate weight and balance, understand the ramifications of not doing it, and not just punch numbers into an electronic E6B. And speaking of E6B’s, does anybody care about them anymore? Most millennials do not even know what a slide rule is, let alone having ever seen one, nor do they care. Their electronic calculator just says enter a number in these boxes and it spits out a number to them. An App on their iPad does all their flight planning for them. An App on their iPad shows them where they are; they do not have to know where they are; they just rely on the iPad to show them! And I can go on and on, but I digress…
Yes, I get some great students who really want to learn the art of flying; I get some students who are not really cut out to be a pilot; and I get some who want to be a pilot, but don’t want/need to learn all that basic “crap” cause, “I’m gonna buy a Cirrus with all the automation in it!” and if I get into trouble, “all I gotta do is pop the chute!”
I must be a dinosaur: I believe in taxiing, landing, and rolling out on the center line; I believe in being able to maintain Vx or Vy on departure and an accurate approach speed and glide path to a landing; I believe in touching down when the stall warning horn starts to chirp; I believe in being able to execute a short field landing onto a selected spot on the runway and turning off at a particular taxiway (like onto Hotel 3 right into Cutter when landing on runway 25R at Sky Harbor); I believe in professionalism at the controls of my airplane; I believe in correct and standardized radio phraseology and techniques; I believe I can always be and need to be a better pilot; and I believe I still have a lot to learn. Instilling all that into new students is the challenge of flight instructing, and flight instructing is certainly not for everyone. Luckily, even after 42 years, I still enjoy it (most of the time). Some of my students even say I have the patience of Job. Don’t I wish!!