GAARMS Report: November 2017
Another month has passed, and unfortunately, as I write this article, our safety record continues to slip further down the “Luck Meter”
From AZFamily.com: WILLCOX, AZ Oct. 19 - The pilot of a small airplane that died last week after crashing into the desert in southern Arizona has been identified. Authorities with the Cochise County Sheriff's Department said the 68-year-old pilot was the only person in the plane when it crashed. The single engine aircraft he was flying, a homebuilt Lancair Legacy 2000, crashed Thursday in a remote desert area north of Interstate 10, near mile post 155, between the towns of Willcox and Bowie. Authorities said Peterson was heading from California to Texas when the plane went down about 8:20 a.m.
Peterson had left that morning from Eagle Roost Airpark in Aguila and was heading to Garner Field Airport in Uvalde, Texas. The crash is under investigation by the National Transportation and Safety Board as well as the Federal Aviation Administration.
It’s the second fatal plane crash in southeastern Arizona in the past two months. On Sept. 5, an F-16 Fighting Falcon jet crashed near Fort Thomas, killing its pilot.
With this latest accident, we have slipped even further down the scale from the “Average” level towards the “Worse than last Year” level, currently standing at 6 fatal accidents and 13 fatalities, NOT counting the military F-16 accident. 2016 stood at 6 fatal accidents with only 9 fatalities. Hopefully we can continue to hold right here for the rest of the year, so think safe, fly safe.
WARNING, WILL ROBINSON!!! - Winter is coming to northern Arizona! Arizona, with its huge diversity of terrain and elevations, can cause some significantly different weather patterns and conditions over a relatively short distance. Think of flying from Deer Valley to Flagstaff: DVT, with clear and 10 miles visibility, SEZ at 3000 broken-to-overcast with 10 miles visibility, and then there is Flagstaff, with indefinite ceiling 800 feet, 1 ½ miles with light snow and blowing snow. All that in less than 100 miles! And then, of course, there is the temperature – mid 60’s in the Phoenix area, BUT BELOW FREEZING up in Flag!! So not only do you have to consider the airplane, the weather and the airport conditions, you have to consider the pilot and his/her exposure to the elements. How does the cabin heat work? Smell anything funny? Got a carbon monoxide detector in the cabin? How about dressing appropriately for any anticipated conditions? Flip-flops, Bermuda shorts, and a Hawaiian shirt does not offer much protection trudging across the wind and snow swept ramp up here in Flag!!!
Winter is not all bad. A really beautiful flight is one in the dead of the winter, in the dead of night, over snow covered territory, brightly lit up by a full moon – it is spectacular! However, caution is advised: slick, slippery runways and taxiways, ice in those clouds, frozen brakes, snow-packed wheel pants, cold starts with the associated potential for fire, ice-jammed control surfaces, balky instruments, cold-soaked radios, and frozen-solid seat cushions can make the whole experience less than wonderful.
People often ask me if the flight school up here even flies during the winter, and I always answer with an enthusiastic “FER SHURE!” In fact, the 172s really like the cold weather; they like the cold dense air. They get more power out of the engine, the propeller gets to bite into denser air producing more thrust, and the wings love the dense air and produce more lift. The airplane gets to act like a youngster again, jumping into the air effortlessly in less than 1000 feet runway – vs the 2500-3000 feet it needs in the heat (and density altitude) of the summer. We just dress a lot warmer!
Hey, YOU, the guy flying without shoulder harnesses…
If you're flying with only a lap belt ― shame on you. As much as some pilots don't like having belts over their shoulders, the study data has been clear for decades. According to the FAA, 88 percent of injuries and 20 percent of fatalities can be eliminated by adding shoulder harnesses (or additional restraints) over lap belts alone!
The FAA didn't get serious about seatbelts and shoulder harnesses until 1978, and even then it was only requiring shoulder restraints for the front seats. Ten years later, they added the rear. Given how long aircraft stay in service, that means there are thousands of craft flying every day with inadequate protection for the most valuable item on board.
Even a decent seatbelt system needs to be checked if it's seen over 10 years of regular service. Webbing that's torn or frayed should be replaced. This includes the threads that stitch the belts together, which shops tell us is often the first thing to go. Loose threads or thread ends hanging out are red flags. The seatbelt hardware can also wear. Common issues can be detachable shoulder restraints that no longer lock securely into the lap belt, and latches that open under strain. Aircraft that see a lot of short flights, such as trainers, are especially suspect. With worn hardware and webbing, it's often cheaper to buy a replacement for the whole thing. Prices vary widely depending on exactly what hardware and finish you want.
Replacement time might be an opportunity to upgrade to an inertia reel, a four-point system (straps over both shoulders) or even the new airbag systems. Upgrade costs vary in the time needed, but since some interior disassembly is required, it's often several hours of labor.
There are three ways to upgrade a seatbelt system, mostly related to the volume of paperwork required. The simplest is by STC with all the paperwork included. The second is as a minor modification. This can happen when there's an existing hard point or framework where the seatbelt can be attached. AC 23-17B (page 105) makes it clear that this method is acceptable for aircraft manufactured without shoulder restraints. The third method is by field approval, which is required if any welding or drilling is involved. Many local shops have the authorization and ability to repair your existing belts or to find STC kits for you.
OK, so how much is your life worth? How important to you is that person in the right seat, your wife, your children, your best friend, or even you flight instructor?
If I told you you could install a basic shoulder harness system for the pilot and right seat passenger for only $110.00 bucks, would you do it? Hey, you will easily blow $110.00 bucks in one night out at the restaurant for dinner and drinks, for one night’s pleasure. Why wouldn’t you spend $110.00 bucks so you can continue to do that for the rest of your life???
You know risk is always there when we fly, that something could happen. Remember Murphy’s Law? We do risk management every time we go flying. The FAA requires student pilots receive training in emergency landings, flight reviews put emphasis on emergency procedures, we play the “What if” game as we fly around, we buy new ELTs, we change ELT battery’s every 2 years, we buy EPIRBs, we subscribe to SpyderTracks or SPOT, we carry our iPhones with all kinds of Apps for survival, and to be able to make calls if you go down in the boondocks, but all this depends on you surviving the landing or crash. And without shoulder harnesses, your chances, and your right seat passenger’s chances, are significantly reduced!!!
In doing some research, I found that Hooker Harnesses offers their “QUICKIE” harness for only $55.00 for many of the older lap-belt-only equipped aircraft. This is actually a Y-strap that has loops on all three ends. It requires NO installation, no modification to the aircraft, no tools, NADA!! You simply thread the rear seat lap belt through the single strap's loop and tighten. Then you thread the two halves of the front lap belt through two forward loops and climb in. This effectively makes a shoulder restraint anchored by the rear seatbelts. However, it does make the rear seats unusable for passengers, but many owners rarely carry people in the rear seats anyway. If you desperately need to carry passengers in the rear seats, the “Quickie” system can be removed. Because the Quickie isn't permanently attached, there's no paperwork at all. Hooker Co-owner Scott Mc Phillips says it's very popular with ferry pilots flying aircraft without modern seatbelts.
The design philosophy for the “Quickie” is that most four place aircraft are generally flown with two people the majority of the time. The “Quickie” system should not be used with people in the rear seats, as this results in double loading of the rear seat belts, pulling the belts off of the pelvis of the rear passengers, and other undesirable things in the event of a crash.
There is also one other consideration to note. If the top of the front seat is below your shoulders, any load on the harness can compress your spine. Thus the “Quickie” could save your life by preventing head injuries (the most common cause of death in a crash) but leave you with spinal damage. This problem can be averted only if your seat back is high enough and strong enough. The best solution is a real shoulder harness, attached with proper geometry.
Now, I am not promoting Hooker harnesses over any other shoulder harness company – they are all very good – but just letting you know I found a very inexpensive alternate to help save lives that you should consider, taking into account the Pro’s and Con’s. I believe anything we can do to further promote safety at a reasonable cost should be brought to your attention.
Pilots rarely think about seatbelts other than as a startup checklist item, but worn belts and/or no shoulder harnesses are a risk with no accompanying benefit, given how reasonable the solution can be. Even if hardware has to be replaced, we think it's a no-brainer to make sure this basic safety equipment is up to the potential challenge.
We also think that any seat regularly occupied by humans - family members, friends, and yes, even your “grouchy” flight instructor - should have a shoulder restraint of some kind if at all possible. Our pick – if money were no object - would be an inertia reel, four-point system, but anything that improves your odds of walking away from a bad day is money wisely spent and I don’t have to talk about you at the next GAARMS symposium!