The Oh Shit! Moment

Below is an email from our insurance provider, who we all know really dictates much of what we do. Please take the time to read this and think about your procedures. Keep your heads up and keep flying!

We had two losses in recent months that are like so many other previous losses our skydiving aircraft insurance group members sustained.  The first lost was a pilot flying a King Air who flamed out one of his engines on jump run. He then subsequently skipped his pre-landing checklist and landed a perfectly flying airplane without remembering to put the landing gear down. The second pilot skipped her pre-taxi check list and forgot to push in the circuit breaker that actuated the hydraulic brakes and steering for her Otter and pulling out from the parking spot, spun her aircraft into a running Otter parked right next to hers.  In both cases, had either pilot followed normal protocol and completed either their pre-landing or pre-taxi checklist, neither accident would have happened.  BUT………

But, in my opinion, the cause of the accident was not failure to perform a checklist, it goes beyond that.  Both of these losses are like so many previous losses our group sustained, and I call it Pilot failure to recognize that he/she are experiencing an “OH SHIT” moment.  The King Air pilot was probably thinking, Oh Shit, I just lost an engine.  The Otter pilot, who was running a little late probably said, Oh Shit, I am running late and need to hurry.

I know that our pilots fly thousands of loads over and over again and never pull out a written checklist.  I prefer they did use one on every load but I never did when I was flying skydivers and I know most pilots today also do not.  But pilots can get away with a mental checklist because they are usually in the middle of one of a thousand normal jump flights. Nothing new and nothing different is happening.

Unfortunately, pilots forget to do their usual mental checklists at the very worst time, when something is going wrong or something different is happening.  At the very time and on the very flight a pilot should be going over their checklists twice in their head, they don’t do it once!  It is just not when something wrong is happening either, it can also be when just something simple but different is happening, like flying a ferry flight to get an airplane to a boogie. It’s a different operation than the one of the normal monotonous thousand jump flights a pilot flies.

We need to teach our pilots to recognize when they are in one of those “OH SHIT” moments.  Use whatever you want, but I use to tell my student pilots in my CFI days that if they are thinking “Oh Shit” in their head or saying it out loud, they are in an “OH SHIT” moment and they need to be doing their normal checklists twice.  That’s the red flag for a pilot and the equation that will save lives is:  OH SHIT!  = CHECKLIST.

If a pilot is saying:

Oh Shit, I just lost an engine
Oh Shit, I am running late
Oh shit, a jumper is on my final landing approach and I have to do a go around
Oh Shit, my windshield just fogged up
Oh Shit, I have to fly a ferry flight
Oh shit, this is my 20th load for the day and I am getting tired
Oh shit, it’s getting dark and they want me to fly one more load
Oh shit, air traffic control has me on hold and I am running low on fuel

(Everyone of the above was from one of our group’s actual accidents)

Teach your pilots to recognize that “OH SHIT” moment and go through all checklists twice!

OH SHIT = CHECKLIST

It would have prevented everyone of the above accidents.

Be safe.

Quazy’s Flight

I mentioned an incident in a post a short time ago about a friend of mine having to land on a country road after being forced down by thunderstorms.  It’s a great story and a lot of lessons can be learned from the decisions that were made, both right and wrong.

In 1990 I was out of the property management game and running full speed into the aviation/skydiving world.  Yes, in a previous life I was employed as a commercial property manager in charge of 17 office buildings with a company car, secretary, and a two piece suit as a uniform.  It was horrific. I don’t like to think about that dark period of my life so please don’t bring it up again. Anyway I started out in my new life of adventure by working for a small skydiving school in western Wisconsin owned and run by Pat “Quazy” Quashnick.  One of the most experienced skydivers in the nation at the time, Quazy had over 3000 jumps and a world record hanging on the wall but was, on the other hand, only a moderately experienced pilot with under 300 hours and no instrument rating. Quazy had given me my first flying job hauling jumpers to altitude off a short dirt strip in his beat up 1956 Cessna 182.

One day Quazy walked up to me while I was manning the phones and taking reservations for his skydiving operation and asked me to take a look at the aviation weather forecast for western Minnesota and North Dakota.  He was going to take his jump plane, a 1956 Cessna 182, and go visit his mother in Fargo North Dakota and he was a little concerned about a line of thunderstorms that were being reported along the route.  Now this was way back in the olden days of aviation and we didn’t have have the internet to give us real time radar images so we had to do it the old fashioned way by calling an FAA weather briefer who would look at his radar screen and tell us what he saw.  When I called the local briefer he painted a grim picture of heavy but isolated thunderstorms in a line blocking Quazy’s route but good weather at his destination.  After I hung up I told Quazy what the briefer had told me and that I wouldn’t make the trip if I were him.  But like my wife asking my opinion about what color to paint the bedroom he ignored my advise and said he was going anyway.  I tried to point out that his plane didn’t have an artificial horizon or a working turn coordinator so if he accidentally found himself in the clouds he would be in real trouble. Quazy countered by reminding me that he didn’t have an instrument rating anyway so the missing instruments wouldn’t be an issue.  I shook my head at that line of reasoning and continued to try an convince him no to make the trip but Quazy just told me that if he got into trouble he would just fly low under the weather and scud run through the line of storms.  It sounded like a great plan to me.  Not.

Two hours after he climbed into his beat up skydiving plane and took off the phone rang and instead of someone wanting to book a tandem skydive it was Quazy on the other end and he sounded a little shook up.  He told me that he needed me to drive out to central Minnesota and get his plane.  When I pressed him for details he told me that when he encountered the line of thunderstorms he’d stuck to his plan and had dropped down to treetop level and tried to pick his way between the cells.  He said it looked like he was going to make it until the clouds and heavy rain forced him to turn around and when he did he found that the clouds had closed in all around him.  Quazy was almost crying as he told me about thinking he was going to die before a country road miraculously appeared in front of him.  He said he chopped his power and slammed the plane onto the road just as the the thunderstorm rolled over him with all it’s fury.  Just telling me what happened was hard on him so said not to worry about the details and I’d be right there.

When I showed up at the hotel he was staying at I found a much more composed man than the one I’d talked to on the phone hours before.  Quazy had had time to calm down a bit in the time it had taken me to drive across the state and seemed much better.  He told me that after landing he killed the engine and just sat in the middle of the road as the thunderstorm pounded the little Cessna.  When the storm passed He’d started up and taxied the plane to a small turn off leading to a farmers field, parked it and hitched a ride into town from a passing farmer. After having a chance to calm down a bit he had me drive him out to the scene of the crime because he wanted to get his plane out of there before the FAA found out what had happened. When we arrived at the Cessna Quazy and I looked at the paved country road and decided that the best direction to take off was the one that had a slight hill in the middle of it. Because he wouldn’t be able to see what was coming from that direction he told me to drive to the top of the hill to check for oncoming traffic and wave my arms when the coast was clear. I hopped in the car and started to drive up the hill but halfway up I saw a single power line crossing the road that we hadn’t noticed. I pulled over and hopped out to warn Quazy but was horrified to see that he hadn’t waited for me to get into position and was already moving. I frantically waved my arms to try and stop him but the Cessna kept coming. In a last ditch attempt to prevent disaster I bravely, it’s my story after all, moved into the middle of the road as the plane broke ground and pointed at the power line blocking Quazy’s way. Finally seeing what I was pointing at the Cessna bobbed up and down as Quazy tried to decide weather or not to try and go over or under the power line. At the last second he dove back down at the road and swooped under the offending line with his tail missing it by just a few feet. And of course, because timing is everything, at the exact moment the plane was passing under the power line a car came over the crest of the hill headed right for it causing Quazy to yank back on the yoke pulling up quickly and once again missing the obstacle, this time a car, by mere feet. Where was I while all this happened? Why standing right under the power line of course. I had a ring side seat for the whole show. After Quazy cleared the oncoming car and roared off the driver of the car slammed on the breaks and looked over at me with eyes as big as saucers. I just smiled and waved before jumping into my car and getting the hell out of there.

Lot’s of mistakes to learn from here.

1. Listen when more experienced pilots tell you you shouldn’t go flying. In this case the more experienced pilot was me so rule #1 can be amended to “Always listen to Kerry.”

2. If you’re going to scud run you should be capable and have the ability to climb into the clouds and continue the flight in instrument conditions.  This means having an instrument rating, sort of current maps, and a plane with the instruments needed to fly in the clouds.  I scud run A LOT! I love it and think in many conditions it’s the safest way to go. Like trying to punch through a line of imbedded thunderstorms. But when I do it I always have the ability to switch to IFR flight if I get into trouble.

3. When scud running always leave yourself an escape route, weather it’s the ability to go IFR or keeping track of the conditions behind you in case the conditions in front of you get a little too scary.

4. If you’re going to attempt a takeoff on anything other than a official runway always do a careful check of said makeshift runway. Check for holes, ditches, livestock, and of course power lines. Oh, and always WAIT FOR MY DAMN SIGNAL! (See rule #1)

 

14 Minutes

A few days ago a female Japanese pilot took off in a Cessna 152 from a Florida airport and didn’t come back.  She apparently had over 400 hours and an instrument rating and was renting the plane in order to build time to get an airline job back in Japan.  Unfortunately her having 400 hours and instrument rating weren’t enough to keep her out of trouble when she decided to take off into poor, terrible really, weather conditions.  And to make matters worse she did it at night.  I don’t know the exact sequence of events but it sounds like she encountered low clouds and visibility while flying VFR and got herself lost.  She did manage to contact air traffic control who tried their best to help her but she ended up losing control and spinning into to water just offshore.  Inadvertent flight into IFR conditions has killed hundreds if not thousands of pilots over the years and will continue to do so because pilots are stubborn morons who have big problem admitting that they’ve screwed up and JUST TURN AROUND! Guys, it’s not that hard, if you fly into weather that is worse than you expected, low clouds, poor visibility, icing, thunderstorms, whatever, turn around immediately!, go someplace else, land, re-group, and live to fly another day.  But no, you keep going, hoping it will get better until it’s too late.  I’m currently teaching both my son and daughter how to fly, a job that doesn’t stop when they get a license, and trying to teach them how to make the decision to call it quits and chicken out is the hardest lesson to get through their thick heads.  Mostly because they’ve grown up hearing my stories about how I pushed the limits and got away with it.  do as I say not as I do kids.  I had a buddy that tried to fly his skydiving plane through a line of thunderstorms to go and visit his mother.  I helped him check the weather and told him not to try it but he went anyway.  Halfway there the clouds closed in on him and he managed to set the plane down on a road in the middle of nowhere.  It was a very close thing and he told me that it happened so fast you wouldn’t believe it.  When I pushed him for more details he admitted that he had pushed it when the clouds started forcing him lower and lower but that he thought he could make it.  Classic example of what I’m trying to teach my kids.  I’ve included a link to the voice recording of the accident that you can listen to or not it’s up to you but it’s scary knowing that from her first call to the time that ATC lost contact with her is just 14 minutes.  The FAA estimates that a VFR pilot that encounters IFR conditions will usually last only 178 seconds before losing control.  I guess her IFR rating gave her a little more time but you would think it should have saved her life.

http://bcove.me/doszgxc7

From about the 6th minute to the 12th minute of this recording is pretty hard to listen to… she is becoming more and more scared..

Seat Belts, What Are They Good For?

You might be thinking that I’m going to go on and on about how as a Libertarian minded person I’m opposed to “for your own good” laws such as the mandatory seat belt laws.  We could discuss how it’s none of the governments damn business how I live my life and what safety choices and chances I make and take.  Sure you could counter about how many lives and health care dollars have been saved because of such laws and I could point out that now that we don’t have saber tooth tigers anymore stupid people need to get taken out of the gene pool somehow and that using the excuse that the public can’t afford the bill if you get hurt so we must ban things that are dangerous is precisely why we shouldn’t have government health care.   No, I’m going to talk about the other reason they invented seat belts.

Before I ever even started flying I was convinced that I was a shit hot pilot. After reading dozens of books about the dog fights of WWI and WWII I knew that I would have been there I would have been an ace. I just needed to get into a cockpit to show the world how great I was. At least those were my thoughts when I was thirteen. Buy the time I actually started taking flying lessons in my early twenty’s my opinion of my natural ability had softened somewhat, but I still needed that first humbling experience to bring me down to earth, so to speak.

Just days after my first solo I went out to the airport for a flight lesson only to be told by the cute flight school receptionist that my instructor wouldn’t be able to make it out that day. I tried to pretend I was disappointed but I was really ecstatic because the last time I talked to my instructor he told me that I could fly by myself if he wasn’t there but I was to stay in the landing pattern at the airport. That meant for the first time I would be able to just grab the keys and log book from the receptionist and go flying, just like a real pilot. I went out to the little Cessna 152 trainer, did a through pre-flight then climbed in and started the engine. Grinning from ear to ear I taxied to the runway and the most professional voice I could muster requested permission from the control tower for take off. Once aloft my grin got even bigger if that’s possible. I was finally flying by myself. I’d flown solo before but always under my instructors supervision, now I was responsible for myself, master of my own destiny, the pilot in command. I stayed in the pattern like my instructor told me to and did two touch and go’s but the little red devil on my shoulder had other plans.

Hey Kerry, let’s leave the pattern and go do some REAL flying!”

It was tempting. The guys in the control tower had no idea I was supposed to stay in the pattern and there was nobody at the flight school but the receptionist and a mechanic. No one would have any idea I’d been gone. I looked for the white angel on my other shoulder to try and talk some sense into me but he was a no show.

Crystal tower, Cessna 65 tango, departing the pattern to the west.”

Cessna 65 tango right turn approved.”

And just like that I was free. I flew west to the flight school’s practice area and immediately started screwing around. Steep banks, baby wing-overs, stalls, the works. I was in heaven. I’d grown up listening to my uncle Kerry tell me flying stories about his life as an aviator in the U.S. Navy and dreaming of flying fighters off an aircraft carrier into combat. I had thousands of hours of flight time in my daydream log book and now I finally had the chance to prove I was as good of a pilot as I thought I was. I swooped, dived, turned and banked as aggressively as the under-powered trainer would let me.

After a few minutes of aerobatics that I’m sure would have made my uncle proud I decided to try something new. I pulled back on the control yoke and climbed steeply. Just before I lost all my speed I pushed on the yoke as hard as I could putting the plane into a steep dive and floating me out of the pilot’s seat in a negative G maneuver. The whoop of delight died on my lips. Instead of gently floating off the seat and hanging there in zero gravity for a few seconds my body fell forward into control panel trapping the yoke under my chest in the full down position. In a flash I realized why it was important for pilots to wear their seat belts snugly. The Cessna continued diving at the ground below and I desperately tried to pull on the yoke and level the plane out but trapped against the control panel I couldn’t get any leverage. As a large airplane manual flew past my head I pushed myself back into my seat, held myself there with one hand and tightened my seat belt with the other. As soon as the belt was holding me in place again I hauled back on the yoke with both hands and pulled the Cessna out of the dive. More than a little shaken I decided to cut my airshow short and head back to the airport.

After landing and shutting the plane down I sat in the cockpit for a few minutes contemplating my actions. On one hand I was very angry with myself for making such a boneheaded mistake and almost getting myself killed. On the other hand I was kind of proud of myself for not panicking in an emergency situation. With the two attitudes conflicting with each other I decided to go with pride. After all, I told my self, all the great pilots did dumb stuff early in their careers. The trick was to learn from your mistakes. At least that’s what I told myself.

Then I remembered something my uncle Kerry told me when he heard that I’d I started taking flying lessons.

Remember Kerry, when a young man starts flying he’s issued two bags, an experience bag and a luck bag. When he first starts out his experience bag is empty and his luck bag is full. Every time the pilot survives doing something stupid or dangerous he takes a little out of the luck bag and puts it in the experience bag. The trick is to fill the experience bag before the luck bag runs dry.”

Those words rang true in my head as I realized I’d just made my first withdrawal from my luck bag. I hoped it was a deep bag.

By the way, just for the record I always wear my seat belt when I drive, and when I’m flying it’s usually uncomfortably tight.

 

Real Pilots

No Automation, One Shot at Landing: It’s Really Hard to Fly SpaceShipTwo

Virgin Galactic’s spaceship, meant to eventually take wealthy passengers on brief rides into space, crashed during a test flight over southern California on Friday morning. One of its two pilots was killed, the other suffered serious injuries and remains hospitalized.

It’s a major setback for the space tourism effort, and a loss for the aerospace community. The deceased pilot, who has not been named, was like all his colleagues among the best on the planet. Virgin Galactic only hires the best, guys who tested planes for the Air Force or flew missions for NASA. The talent pool is limited because it has to be: Flying SpaceShipTwo is damn difficult.    More:

While the recent crash of Spaceship Two was tragic with the loss of the pilot I’m sure there will be no shortage of highly experienced men willing to take his place.  Men like know that the price you pay to fly high performance aircraft and cutting edge technology can sometimes be high.

Tail Gunner

Airbus: Pilots don’t really need windows

A flight deck with viewing screens could go at the base of the vertical tail, and possibly still have windows for seeing to the front and sides of the aircraft. Photo: Airbus/U.S. Patent And Trademark Office

Future airliner flight decks may do away with windows and move out of the nose of the aircraft, according to Airbus.

The European airplane maker filed a patent application Dec. 23, published June 26, for a flight deck that relies mostly or entirely on electronic viewscreens.

The first advantage is aerodynamic, since flight deck windows require interrupting the ideal scalpel shape of the nose, Airbus wrote. Also, big windows and the reinforcement required for them add weight to the aircraft.

Putting the flight deck at the front of the cabin takes valuable space away from the cabin, “thereby limiting the financial profits for the airline company exploiting the aircraft,” Airbus wrote.

Without the need for windows, the flight deck could move “to an unused zone of the aircraft, and in particular into a zone difficult to configure for receiving passengers or freight,” Airbus wrote. One possibility is the base of the tail, where the flight deck could still have some windows. Another is in part of the cargo hold.

Finally, relying more on viewscreens would improve pilots’ perception and awareness, by giving a more complete view of what’s going on outside the aircraft, according to Airbus.

In addition to the viewscreens, Airbus envisions a system that could project holograms of objects such as storm clouds and ground obstacles, and chart a course around them.

“The object of this preferred version is to immerse the pilot in a three-dimensional universe, at the center of the action,” Airbus wrote.

Click through the gallery above to see images from Airbus’ patent application.

gallery:

As a pilot my first reaction was shock, horror, disgust, what a stupid idea,  Meh, who cares?  It does sound like a dumb idea at first.  I mean, a cockpit with no windows? unheard of!  But when you think about it, it does make a lot of sense.  The advantage in aerodynamics reduced weight alone would make it worthwhile.  “But Kerry,”  you ask, “what would happen if you lost electrical power?  The fancy view screens wouldn’t work and you’d be screwed!”  Good question, and the answer is that, yes, you’d be screwed.  But there are a whole lot of things that can break in an airliner that result in your being screwed, this is just one more.  What pilot’s who think this is a dumb idea need to consider is that there is a very good reason to fly from the tail of an aircraft,  It’s usually the only part of an aircraft that’s left intact after a crash.  Or to look at it another way, we used to be the first ones at the scene of the crash now we can be the last!

▶ More Oops, and Serria Hotel

A great job getting the plane down in one piece.  The pilot does a nice job of keeping his speed up and not stalling it while dead sticking it in.  The prop comes off at the 6 minute mark.

Flying To Work

Last week we found a crack in a rib on the tail of the Grand Caravan we lease to fly jumpers at Skydive Twin Cities.  The crack was significant enough that the plane was flown from Wisconsin to Atlanta to get fixed.  That left us with no jump ship for the week.  But wait, my Cessna 206 N207J “Juliet” was back in operation and ready to go!  As I mentioned in the last post my mechanic and I had spent a long time getting Juliet back in the air and one of the things we did was put on 6 new cylinders.  Whenever you put new cylinders on an engine they need to be broken in by flying at high power settings while keeping to cylinder head temperatures cool for about 15 hours.  Now I can meet these parameters while flying skydivers by keeping my airspeed high on the climb to altitude to keep the engine cool and leaving some power in on the descent but the best way to break in new cylinders is cross country flying.  So it was with great sadness and inconvenience that I was forced to fly back and forth to work every day last week.  It was a real hardship having to drive 5 minutes  to the airport each morning and climb into my airplane for my commute to work.  You can’t possibly imagine the drudgery of flying 500 feet over the Wisconsin countryside seeing deer, turkeys, Bald Eagles, and rolling hills pass beneath your wings during the agonizingly long 15 minute flight.  It is to weep.

20140522_110719

Boring.

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Seeing firemen set a grass fire isn’t interesting at all.

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Ever Koda looks bored on the way home after a long day of begging for treats from the skydivers.