ForeFlight now includes an enhanced track log that any pilot–but especially flight instructors and pilots in training–will find useful when reviewing and debriefing flights. The new Track Log Review feature is available in ForeFlight release 11.5. Here’s the ForeFlight video that explains the feature. (ForeFlight has published a series of how-to videos on its YouTube […]
Partial Engine Failure
“Did we hit a bird, ” I started to say…
There was no response from the cockpit. Barely a few seconds later I heard,
” Indy Center, Nxxxxx”.
“Go ahead, Nxxxxx, ” Indy Center responded.
“I want to declare an emergency. I am unable to maintain altitude, I want to land Parkersburg”
“What’s the problem,” queried Indy Center.
“I don’t have manifold pressure….I am losing engine power,” responded the pilot.
May Day is the prescribed distress signal that a pilot transmits in an emergency. It is the equivalent of SOS. Once uttered, air traffic control (ATC) will go to unlimited lengths to provide guidance, and help the pilot, and make any and all attempts to bring the pilot and passengers safely down. Another handy term is Pan Pan. If you are in trouble, but it is not life threatening, you can use Pan Pan. This conveys, to rescue personnel that, it is not as urgent as the May Day communication.
There was a time, when pilots were reluctant to use these very useful tools when they were in trouble. Declaring an emergency doesn’t get a pilot in trouble, in fact, it brings forth incredible amount of help from ATC.
Practicing simulated emergency procedures is an important part of flight training. It is also one of the key things that are reviewed during a Flight Review or during recurrent training. Pilots review and practice emergency situations from engine failures, to loss of electrical power, to engine fires and other potential, unexpected incidents, to be prepared to handle such situations when and if they occur.
Still, every pilot hopes it is one of those things, that will never happen to him or her!
The weather on Sunday proved iffy. Not only was a weather system expected to move in bringing rain, instrument conditions and poor visibility, but also winds were expected to pick up by noon gusting as much as 40 knots. Throughout the weekend we had monitored the weather and had decided earlier on, that the best plan was to depart SGH as early as possibly, to allow us to stay ahead of the storm.
As planned the two aircraft departed well before our original planned departure time of 8 am.
Barely an hour into our flight, we heard a thump. That day, the stars were perfectly aligned for us. While I would hope to never experience an engine out, if it did, these were the perfect conditions to experience it:
- We had a pilot, who could maintain a calm and cool exterior, despite what might be transpiring within. And most importantly, he knew his aircraft well.
- We had a pilot who was not afraid to declare an emergency when he sensed trouble
- Propitious enough, how often do you expect to declare an emergency when you are over an airport with the largest runway as much as 8000+ ft?
- While we knew a weather system was imminent, and had departed earlier than planned, on an instrument flight plan, here we were in communication with ATC, having passed through some whiffs of clouds, under clear VFR skies.
- If that was not enough, how often do you expect to do so with a 4000+ hour veteran Air Force Pilot in the right seat?
Exactly a little over seven minutes after declaring an emergency at 9,000ft, under reduced power we descended and landed safely on the longest runway at Parkersburg Airport (PKB) in West Virginia, without any further damage to the aircraft or inconvenience to passengers. It could have as well been a perfect example of a simulated engine out practice flight.
There is a world of difference between a simulated engine failure and an actual in-flight engine failure. In this particular situation, I was merely an observer, but there are many things to learn from any incident that one is involved in:
- The ultimate factor that affects the outcome of such an incident is the pilot’s attitude, and response to such a situation. Staying calm not only instills greater confidence among the passengers, but also enables the pilot to review and remember past training and allow him/her to determine the right solution to the problem.
- Once a decision is made, it is best to stick to it till the end. Being fickle or wavering between multiple options will cause valuable time to be lost and might even result in an unwarranted ending.
- There will always be some unknown issues, it is best to stay calm and act in a logical fashion
The incident threw an unexpected curve ball. It required us to hanger the aircraft, and rent a car so we could drive back to our destination. It implies untold expenses to the pilot owner to figure our the cause, and fix the airplane, before it can be flown back to its airport home base.
Only later we realized, once we were past PKB, there was no airport within easy gliding distance along our route. In truth, that day each one of us was fortunate.
Any incident/accident that one walks away from is a blessing.
“Miami Center, can we get direct Ft. Pierce,” I asked eying the ominous looking dark clouds at our 12 o’clock.
“Unable for the next 10 minutes. Maintain heading,” responded Miami Center.
We had departed Bimini, our final halt in the Bahamas before heading back to the States. It was cloudy and IMC along the Florida Coast and we had filed an IFR flight plan for the return. Bimini is a mere 10nm miles from the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ ) and with luck, we had circled as we climbed to altitude and after multiple attempts, finally established radio contact with Miami Center. This was not only crucial since we were in-bound, crossing the ADIZ, but also because weather along our route was mostly IMC.
We proceeded as directed, continuing to watch the rapidly approaching weather system, straight ahead. When is the best time to tell the controller I am unable to follow his directive, I pondered. The system ahead looked turbulent and moisture laden. It is not fun heading into this mess in a Cessna 172. But I was also curious to see how it felt, how I would handle it, and understand my limits. Fortunately, just as we started penetrating the mess, Miami Center, cleared us direct to Ft. Pierce, so we could avoid the system.
Unable might seem like a taboo word, something you should never use or one you feel affronted to use since it admits a weakness of some sort or some such frivolous reason, but believe it or not it is the most effective word in your pilot lingo that might just save the day.
It is perfectly alright to respond with Unable if you are not able to follow any directive from ATC without jeopardizing the safety of yourself or your passengers. In flying, safety always comes first. As a pilot, your first prerogative is always the safety of your passengers and you. Once safely down, you can always deal with the consequences of your Unable actions. This doesn’t mean that you can now be frivolous and use Unable on any occasion that you feel you should or want to.
I can count the number of times that I used this most effective keyword in the last 14 years of my flying career on my finger tips. There were times when I came close to using it. But most times I override my desire to be a cautious flyer, to allow me to safely stretch the limits of my tolerance, to experience events that otherwise I couldn’t.
“Cessna XXX, cleared direct AVX, descend and maintain 5,000,” cleared LA Center as we neared the Venture VOR (VTU). This meant flying 50nm across the ocean, direct to Avalon, our intended destination. I had been conservative in my planning and filed:
This allowed us to trace the California coastline all the way past LAX and allowed us a short 25nm hop to Catalina Island. But here we were, not only flying lower, but also 50nm across the ocean. Definitely not within gliding distance to land. Neither my co-pilot, nor I, was worried. It was a pristine VFR day and experiences such as these are valuable. Being on an IFR flight plan, ATC knew exactly where we were, and there were hundreds of boats along the way!
As a pilot, it is up to you to determine what those limits are and when it is essential to use Unable. Remember, safety always comes first. But it is not necessary to be so conservative that you exclude all experiences and use your safe word prematurely.
On a wholly different flight, my friends and I were returning from the Key West on a VFR flight. The weather was iffy and our return trip meant dodging clouds along the Florida coastline. Unfortunately, I was not IFR current and hence had to maintain VFR for the duration of my flight.
“Climb to 2500 ft and contact Ft Lauderdale Tower,” directed Miami Approach.
My response was succinct, “Unable,” as I lowered the nose a little below 1,000ft.
“How high can you go?” queried Miami Approach.
“Not much above 1,000ft,” responded I.
“Stay out of Class Charlie Airspace and contact Ft Lauderdale Tower,” with that Miami Approach bid adieu. We headed further out to the ocean, away from the Intra-Coastal waters, to stay out of Ft. Lauderdale airspace,and contacted Ft. LauderdaleTower.
“Cleared through the coastal route, descend and maintain 500 ft,” cleared Ft. Lauderdale Tower, once we established contact.
It was music to our ears. The clouds continued to darken around us and we could feel the occasional drizzle on the wind shield. Off in the distance, a partial rainbow gleamed in the eastern sky, patches of blue still visible in the evening sky. While a little south of Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport (where we planned to land), the dark rain bearing clouds looked ominously threatening, hovering just a shade away from the airport edge. We landed in the nick of time, just as the storm started to pass over the airport. Tying down the aircraft in a drizzle, it felt good to be back and out of the storms way.
Unable is the most effective word in your back pocket. It is okay to use, if you are in a sticky situation. Use it wisely, and sparingly. Remember safety comes first!
Lately there has been a considerable emphasis on awareness of Loss of Control (LOC) in flight which happens to be the major contributor to GA accidents. Until 2005, Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) was the greatest reason for GA accidents.
It is not that LOC accidents/incidents have seen a rise over the years, but rather CFIT have steadily decreased, while LOC counts continue to remain steady. This is not surprising. Since latest advances in technology and better avionics in the cockpit have improved pilot awareness as well as provided tools to dynamically plan and prepare for contingencies related to weather and terrain.
LOC still remains a problem. Since as I indicated previously, while we train for stalls and unusual attitudes, there are many more causes of LOC accidents/incidents out there that are less common and difficult to train for.
There is a compelling need to train for this. And all the major organizations such as AOPA, EAA, NTSB, SAFE and many others have been pushing this need emphatically this year. Just in the last 2-3 months I have attended several safety seminars on the topic.
The most commonly used trainers such as the C172, DA20 or similar aircraft are less suited to train for these situations. Instead grab an instructor interested in UPRT and an aerobatic airplane to familiarize with some of these challenging LOC events.
While not every instructor might be trained or prepared to give such training, I know at least a few out west that have provided both safety seminars as well as hands on training. One such instructor was Rick Stowell who has provided Emergency Maneuvering Training both ground and in flight for more than a decade. Also checkout his book on the topic. I am sure there are many others out there.
Loss of Control can happen in a heart beat. Don’t wait for that moment!
You might also want to read Flight for Safety while you are at it:-)
Loss of Control in Flight
NTSB Presentations: Preventing Aerodynamic Stalls and LOC Accidents
Upset Prevention and Recovery Training
Reconsidering Upset Recovery Training
It can happen in a heart beat!
The single biggest threat to GA accidents/incidents has been VMC flying into IMC for the longest time. Engine failure might have been another. But times have changed.
As we continue to fly newer aircraft, such as the Cirrus, Cessna G100, Diamond and more, there has been a shift in the cause of accidents/incidents.
No surprises here. Advanced weather information in the cockpit provided by XM Satellite, TIS, and ADS-B has considerably improved the safety of flying in bad weather in leaps and bounds. This does not necessarily eliminate weather related accidents/incidents completely. VMC flying into IMC is no longer so much a threat. But if unprepared, latency in updates to weather information, can still result in accidents and incidents.
According to the latest safety statistics, Loss of Control during flight, is the single biggest contributor of accidents to GA flights. Not only that, compared to other categories of flight such as Commercial and Air Taxi, GA accidents/incidents continue to increase!
I can remember a time, when I flew with a single VOR receiver in the cockpit. My sole knowledge of en route weather was what I garnered during preflight planning, any en route HIWAS weather or ATC provided weather updates. Whenever inclement bad weather was expected, I choose to stay home.
Loss of Control during flight is whole different matter. It is one, we rarely prepare for. True, we do learn stall recovery, but loss of control during flight, is a valid threat. There are so many factors that can contribute to loss of control: loss of rudder control, stall, spin, loss of aileron and more.
And, it can happen in a heart beat!
Recently during a flight into Lakeland, FL, I experienced a slight loss of control. No stall warning. If there were one, I am trained to react. Neither did the controls feel mushy. The nose didn’t drop left. Instead it oscillated to the right. I am still uncertain of the nature of the error. And hence unsure what the correction should be. Unfortunately, I didn’t check airspeed at the time. The last time I checked, it was 69 knots.
To my credit, I can only claim a long day, with almost 8 hours of flying at least half of them as PIC, some of them in IFR, and some of them holding, flying and following directions. My first thought was wake turbulence or some sort of winds…
What do you think?
I recently attended the 4th in the series of Safety Seminars hosted by NTSB, in collaboration with FAA, SAFE, AOPA and Flight Safety, where GA Safety is still a major concern.
Loss of control is still, in my mind, a major threat. One that is difficult to plan or prepare for.
True, stall and spin training are there.
But what, if you don’t know what is happening? How can you react then?
Typically, the only time we review emergency procedures, is during flight training, be it private, instrument, commercial or other higher ratings. Or maybe during Flight Reviews. But not all flights reviews are as thorough as they should be. The onus is on the pilot, to ensure that he/she achieves the most from any flight training or flight review and obtains the necessary training in any emergency procedures that he/she wishes.
It is easy to lose focus, save time and money and achieve a quick review. But is it the right thing to do? Stalls, engine fire and Engine-out procedures are the most common emergency procedures that are reviewed over and over again. Although these events occur rarely, they can occur at the most importune moment, if one is not vigilant! There are still others, that are out there such as ice or oil on windshield, VMC into IMC, disorientation, IMC flying, tire blowout, loss of avionics, alternator failure, spin awareness, loss of control, loss of electrical system, loss of GPS and many more that are less frequently addressed. So plan your next review or a session with a dedicated instructor to suit your specific needs. After all, safety begins with the pilot!
Lately, Linda and I have taken to spending our time during a long flight, by reviewing all the emergency procedures in the POH to entertain ourselves. I think it is a great way, to refresh and prepare us for emergency situations. Likewise, attending safety seminars, Webinars and flying with a flight instructor to review and work on emergencies is another excellent way to be prepared.
How do you plan and prepare for emergencies? Drop me a line…
If you don’t already have an account or belong to these organizations, here are a few resources to get you started on attending free seminars or Webinars on safety:
A few weeks ago AOPA released an app: Flight Risk Evaluator. One can input aircraft, pilot and flight plan information to get feedback on the flight risk involved to aid with the decision making prior to departure. The app uses terrain, weather information at origin, destination and route of flight as well as recent currency information for the pilot such as total hours, number of landings within the past 90 days, and provides an assessment of risk factors involved.
Just for fun, I input all the information prior to my upcoming flight to the Bahamas. I was current not only for day VFR and IFR but also had the night currency requirements. As it turns out only the barest minimum. For the number of landings in the last 90 days, I had input 4. The result: the Flight Risk Evaluator told me I should go and fly with an instructor before my upcoming flight 🙂
Considering the cost of flying, the time I can allocate to flying, in addition to all my other interests, I fly barely once a month. So I rarely expect to have more than 3-4 landings in any 90 day cycle! I do know, how rusty I feel sometimes, when I get in the air after more than a month of not flying, assuredly still legal, but less confident, and a little behind the curve. I know, how it feels to fly in an aircraft, with barely the minimum needed to stay current. Fortunately, I always tend to fly with another pilot or carry a single passenger. Or make sure I fly with an instructor when I know I needed more training. Always making sure I can fly safely. But what if you carried 200 or more passengers?
So imagine, you are in an airline headed out maybe on a business trip, a vacation or just to visit family and friends. What if you knew that the pilot flying your aircraft had barely the sufficient recent currency training to fly the aircraft type? That to in a simulator? What if you knew that automation was considered a prerequisite to reducing the required training necessary to keep pilots flying safely?
My copy arrived mid last week and I couldn’t wait to get started.
Flight for Safety follows the lives of the three chief characters: Kathryn Jacobs, Darby Bradshaw and Jackie. It attempts to find an answer as to how to keep aircraft safe in the air. How to continue to give the pilots the necessary training, to continue to fly safely.
Automation is here to stay. The best we can do, is to continue to train pilots to fly safely. As we have always done.
Good books are hard to find. Good aviation books are even harder to find. Flight for Safety is a good book to read if you are interested in aviation.
As a final note: profanity has always bothered me. Profanity is popular among the current generation and hence it seems among the current authors. Flight for Control was a riveting read. I was willing to let the sleazy sex scenes by. Flight for Safety is a good read, but I must admit the profanity irritated me. There are less than plausible scenes in the plot line.
If you are an aviation enthusiast it still is a good read.