Monday, February 15, 2010

Hangar Flying Revisted

This weekend I got about as close to hangar flying as I've ever gotten in my sixteen years as a pilot. If you don't know what hangar flying is, I briefly talk about it here.

Basically, it provides pilots the opportunity to tell "there I was" stories. In the military flight school I think we were too traumatized to relive our experiences. As a military officer and pilot I had too many other duties to be able to sit around and gab. Then I guess we regional airline pilots sat around and told stories, but they were usually tales of woe relating how our bosses were abusing us. As I climbed the ladder of a professional pilot career, I became associated with pilots that didn't want to spend too much time admitting mistakes or ignorance.

So as I face my new life as a furloughed pilot I slide down the chute to the General Aviation ramp (this is not an insult to GA by any means but a clever analogy with which I can use the picture at right) and so I am learning so much from dealing with a new genre of pilots.

Saturday I went to a Civil Air Patrol meeting. CAP is is a Congressionally chartered, federally supported, nonprofit corporation that serves as the official civilian auxiliary of the US Air Force providing such services as Aerospace Education, Cadet Programs and Emergency Services, as well as my intended mission, Pilot Training and Services. The CAP unit I am joining has a Cessna 182 available for flying missions, such as search and rescue and cadet orientation flights.

After the standard meeting tasks, we spent quite a bit of time talking about a thorough pre-takeoff brief in order to be prepared for any contingency (or emergency). The message being if you brief specifics on the ground you will not have to make too many decisions in the air when you're short on runway, altitude and time. You may have to slightly modify your plan if conditions change, but that will be a minor consideration instead of holding a soup sandwich when you should be holding it together.

What was interesting to me was that the flight instructors in the room started offering their tips. Tips that if given during a busy lesson in the airplane might have been forgotten once on solid ground, but were well received and responded to by the other pilots. Folks in the group spoke up with thoughts such as "I've always wondered what would happen if I was trimmed for Vy but... (lost an engine, went full throttle, etc.)?"

The more experienced pilots in the room told them to take the opportunity to go practice these scenarios on their next training flight (albeit at a safe altitude!), so they would be prepared to react when something untoward did happen. For Real.

The reason we brief another pilot (if applicable) before takeoff is to ensure that in an emergency the other pilot isn't doing his own thing - like changing the configuration of the airplane at low altitude and airspeed. This could be fatal. Of course, we can all armchair quarterback such events and say, "we'd never do something so stupid," but such accidents happen repeatedly. According to this AOPA Air Safety Foundations report, takeoff accidents account for 20 percent of the total.
It’s logical that this would be a problem area because there is frequently little altitude or time to solve a problem or to maneuver. Regardless of whether it is a mechanical failure or pilot-induced, time, airspeed and altitude are all in short supply. In any event, it’s essential to have a contingency plan in the event of a power loss at a critical time.
So much as possible, we want our reaction to an emergency to be instinctive. If a pilot has seen the situation before, even just a simulation of the event, the correct response may come a split second earlier, preventing a fatal, uh, conclusion to the flight.

The discussion, btw, was supplemented with videos from The Finer Points of Flying website. One that I found particularly interesting was the "Impossible Turn." [#35] I think it finally hit me that I've been flying airplanes with two engines for so long I've grown to think as the second one being the "spare." An airplane will fly fine on one engine (won't climb as well, though, which is why we must consider our "one engine inoperative climb rates" especially at airports within mountainous terrain), so it's less of an "emergency" than in an airplane with one engine and no spare.

So, this impossible turn involves taking off from an airport, losing an engine, and executing a landing to the runway in the opposite direction (given due consideration to the winds). I've only heard of this happening once, and until it was mentioned here had completely forgotten about it. A Beech 1900 that took off from PIT, where I was based, had a cargo door come open in flight. Those pilots had the presence of mind to execute the turn and land immediately. Ok, totally different scenario, of course, but I'm pretty darn sure that contingency wasn't briefed before takeoff. Kudos to them for their cool heads!

Anyway, if a pilot truly believes it impossible to return to the runway in this manner after an engine failure, you could, as one pilot suggested, go to Google maps before a flight to an unfamiliar airport you can check the satellite view for suitable terrain for an off airport landing. See... I hadn't thought of that!

p.s. For those of you tracking my progression towards CFI, I am taking my FOI written tomorrow. Wish me luck!

1 comment:

  1. Good Luck with your exam...I heard the price of the FAA written exam goes up on March 1 - so maybe get those out of the way fast...I am gonna try too :)