We lost another jump plane full of skydivers this weekend. A Cessna 206 in Australia crashed the other day killing the pilot and two tandem instructors and their students. Same old tragic story. Loss of power on takeoff. Pilot attempts the impossible turn. Stall. Spin. Crash. Everyone dead. This scenario happens time and time again and it drives me absolutely batshit crazy! I train jump pilots every year and the one thing I focus most on is how to crash. some pilots like to call it a forced landing but lets call a spade a spade. If you lose power, land off the airport and bend the aircraft it’s a crash. If you and all your passengers walk away it’s a good crash. If everyone dies, not so much. Every pilot knows if the airspeed gets too slow the plane stops flying, that’s not good. The problem is that too many pilots just can’t accept the fact that sometimes they are in a no-win situation and no matter what they do they are going to crash. I can see it like I was there in the cockpit with them. BANG! out of nowhere the engine quits. You were in the climb out with the nose high and your airspeed immediately starts dropping like like a turd from a tall moose as your heart rate goes the other way. You frantically look around the cockpit trying to spot something obviously wrong, something you could fix, something that could get you out of this situation. But there’s nothing wrong, nothing to fix. Look up, find a place to land. But what’s in front of you isn’t a runway, it’s trees, buildings, a school, a golf course, (no, it’s never a golf course) Doesn’t matter it’s not a runway and you’ve never not landed on a runway. TURN AROUND! THE RUNWAY’S BEHIND YOU! You bank hard and head back to the runway. HOW DID I GET SO LOW? AND HOW DID MY AIRSPEED GET SO LOW? You look at the runway out the side window….too far away……here comes the ground……PULL UP! Here come the trees, PULL UP! every time I’ve pulled back on the yoke the plane has climbed. Over the hundreds or thousands of hours I’ve spent flying every time I’ve pulled back on the yoke the plane has climbed. Its become as natural a reaction as breathing. Don’t come up short of the runway, PULL UP! But it doesn’t work that way. The thousands of times you’ve pulled back on the yoke a running engine and excess airspeed has pulled you higher into the sky. But not this time. This time you’re a poor excuse for a glider. And there’s no airspeed left. And airspeed is life. The stall horn shrieks, the pre-stall buffet gets worse, but you can’t bring yourself to lower the nose, if you do that you’ll never make the runway, you’ll crash, and that’s something you just can’t accept…won’t accept. So you do the only thing you can think of to keep from crashing, you pull back more. The end is quick.
One Reply to “Stalls Kill”
These issues remind me of the perpetual debate about whether the pilot should have full authority to “bend” the plane (ie Boeing), or whether safeties should be in place (ie Airbus). If this is truly a failure mode that happens time and time again then would it not be possible to have a form of an interlock that prevents the elevator from going nose up when the stall is activated? On Cessnas you’d probably have to switch out the mechanical linkage with a hydraulic one but considering the last two commercial flights (AF447 and Colgan Air 3407) that had the pilot(s) going nose-up in a stall, the “human factors” problem may be worth addressing with safeties.
PS: For a chilling account of how you can go crazy with flight computers implementing all kinds of safeties, check this article about how the flight computers on the Airbus AF447 contributed to their stall – http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/stalled-af447-did-not-switch-to-abnormal-attitude-law-357394/