5 Simple Tips for Safer Flying. An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Friday, June 07, 2013






5 Simple Tips for Safer Flying.






To conduct any flight safely calls upon a finely balanced mesh of preparation, self-discipline, manipulative skill and good old-fashioned common sense. Even when appropriately armed with the required skills, experience and knowledge, at the most basic level we are all only human. And while our ability to anticipate and reason can often provide the final filter in an unravelling airborne situation, the counter-punch is that we can sometimes make mistakes.

 

It is critical to recognise that we ALL make mistakes and any complacency to the contrary is not only vain and misdirected, but downright lethal. The best outcome is that we maintain an awareness of our human weakness and put measures in place to guard against it. In aviation these safeguards may take the form of checklists and standard operating procedures (SOP), or be as simple as taking your time.

 

Over the coming weeks I shall visit some of the very simple oversights that can have absolutely devastating consequences. They will be not appear in any particular order and I'm sure that there will always be more that can be added to the list. Hopefully this series will provoke some thought and highlight that it is not always the big ticket items that cause a tragedy. I do not write these points from any standpoint of authority as, like you, I am human and I have made mistakes. I am merely the messenger and there but for the grace of God go I.

 

 

                 5 Simple Tips for Safer Flying.

 

1. Fuel Caps.

 

Fuel and its management will feature highly in this series, but the humble fuel cap seems a good place to start. Potentially simple in their engineering and operation, they have brought a number of aircraft to grief over the years. Their purpose is simple; their removal serves to provide a portal for refuelling and on completion they are replaced to keep the contents within the tanks. Simple.

 

Unfortunately, their absence in flight serves to provide a wonderful source of suction which can quickly start to remove fuel from the tanks and into the slipstream. And if only it was as simple as only remembering to  put the fuel caps back on after refuelling, but there are a number of ways to be caught out.

 

Fuel caps can be cross-threaded as they are screwed in, sometimes they don't 'seat' properly and fail to create the perfect seal, others have fuel vents integrated into the cap that can become blocked. On the surface, the caps can appear to be correctly fitted when they are not, so it is always worth double-checking. There have also been instances where the contents haven't been visually checked by the pilot in the belief that the refueller had replaced the caps. High wing aircraft are more susceptible to such oversights and night-time can deprive the pilot of the opportunity to readily observe absent caps or the subsequent streaming fuel.

 

 

In a nutshell, never trust anyone else with matters of fuel; you are the pilot in command. If in doubt, shut down, get out and check the caps, or even return to land if the flight is underway. Not only will this resolve the issue, but even the doubt associated with a fuel issue can prove distracting and ultimately lead to an oversight in some other aspect of the flight. And when flying at night, take extra care pre-flight and incorporate a shine of the torch out onto the wings at regular intervals as part of your cockpit cycle. (If you're in cloud, check the leading edges for icing at the same time.)

 

Fuel caps are not a complex piece of equipment, but their absence or incorrect fitting can lead to major problems.

 

2. Control Locks.

 

Control or gust locks can vary in their nature. From a simple pin and flag device through the control column as many Cessnas employ, to actual blocks on the control surfaces to stop them blowing in the wind on the ground. A thorough pre-flight inspection should always be made for external gust locks. Whatever the system, it is critical to ensure that all flight controls are 'free' with the full range of movement in the correct sense prior to every departure. It's a simple check, but equally simply overlooked.

 

To further complicate the issue, I have seen 'home made' control locks that fail to have any type of warning flag. One was a nail through the hole in the control column that was supposed to be a control lock!

 

Here is an example of an aircraft that attempted to take of with the gust locks in and the crew had omitted to check the full and free movement of the controls prior to take off.

 

                           

 

3. Pitot Tube Covers and Static Ports.

 

Once again, a thorough pre-flight inspection should ensure that the pitot covers are removed and that the static ports are clear. A failure to do so can result in absent or highly erroneous instrument indications that could lead to catastrophic outcomes for the instrument pilot and a difficult day at the office for those flying visually. A word of warning, always have another look at your aeroplane if you leave it unattended for any time after your pre-flight inspection. Well intentioned, but misguided, fellow pilots have been known to replace pitot covers believing that the aircraft was parked.

 

Always be suspicious of the pitot-static system of aircraft parked outside in the rain, or coming out of maintenance. Static ports can be covered over for painting and water can seep into them on those wet, windy nights. Check them externally and then confirm that the instruments in the cockpit are reading what you'd expect them to. Sometimes a 'zero' indication on your dials can be a good thing.

 

 

4. Shifting Loads.

 

Aircraft can be a great way of transporting goods as well as people, however freight can't be relied upon to remain seated with its belt fastened. Firstly, freight needs to be loaded in balance within the correct Centre of Gravity limits.  Secondly, it needs to be secured against any movement in flight for a number of reasons.

 

 

Turbulence can very quickly turn loose items into projectiles while the acceleration of a take-off roll can potentially move a load out of the Centre of Gravity limits that you've so correctly calculated. This can potentially render the aircraft uncontrollable, just as loose items can render the pilot unconscious. Similarly, in a rejected take-off or forced landing, an unsecured load will hurtle forward with a good deal of energy.

 

Even though inanimate objects can be carried on passenger seats, always ensure that they are appropriately secured. A failure to do so can transform harmless cargo into a potential accident. In recent times, a shifting load has been suspected in the horrific loss of a Boeing 747 Freighter in Afghanistan that was beamed across the world's media.


 

5. Secure Your Seat.

 

I have known first hand of a seat sliding back on take-off leading to the death of the pilot. It may seem a very simple thing, but aircraft seats can be somewhat complex in their adjusting mechanisms; fore and aft on rails, up and down for height, upright or reclined. Inevitably, each setting is adjusted by each pilot and some wear on the mechanisms eventually occurs.

 

 

Should the seat slide back on the point of rotation when the rearward force is possibly at its greatest, the pilot may well suffer a double conundrum. Sliding back, the pilot inadvertently pulls the control column fully aft and pitches the nose dangerously up towards the sky. Secondly, with a critically high nose attitude and reducing airspeed, gravity prevents the pilot from getting forward to regain control of the aeroplane. A low level stall is virtually inevitable.

 

Always ensure the security of your seat and don't be afraid to 'rock on the rails' a bit. I actually push back on the seat before every take-off prior to advancing the throttle or thrust levers as a last check. Once again, a seat inadvertently sliding back is something so very simple.

 

So there are five simple oversights that can potentially produce devastating outcomes. We're all only human, so lets all take that extra moment and a second look to make sure that one of these simple issues doesn't turn and bite us. Check back here for the next offering in the “Five Tips” series.

 

Safe flying!

Owen


                                                                 

Ground Rush. (Part Three) Showing Some Flare. An Aviation Training Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Sunday, June 24, 2012

 

Ground Rush. (Part 3)

 

 Showing Some Flare.

 

By Owen Zupp

 

 

As we saw in the last blog of ‘Ground Rush’, a good landing is often intrinsically linked to a good approach. An unrushed stable approach, flown in a consistent manner delivers the aircraft across the threshold in a positive state, ready to return to the earth. Even so, things can go awry. However, the good news is that the problem often lies with some sneaky repeat offenders that can be readily put in their place.

 

 

Was it really that bad?

 

Ultimately, a poor landing is merely the symptom of a root cause. Identify the problem and it can be fixed; no drama. So let’s not allow the dread of a bad landing crawl into our finite mind space and further erode our performance. Firstly, review why the landing was ‘bad’ in your opinion. If it was in the ball park of aim-point, airspeed, approach profile and runway alignment, then it’s quite possible it wasn’t really a bad landing. Perhaps the arrival was not subtle, BUT IT WAS SAFE!

 

If there were symptoms such as a bounce, a prolonged float or directional control issues on touchdown then we assess them for what they are and address the contributing factor or factors. Either way, there is no place or need for self-loathing or depression. If you drop the football, pick it up, move on and try a bit harder next time; you haven’t lost the game. Flying will always present challenges and in part, that is the fun. Very few are endowed with a mastery of any art, it is better in this business to be honest and consistent because that equates to safety. So let’s look at some of the culprits that endeavour to sneak under our guard as the wheels move to meet the runway.

 

 

On the Numbers.

 

At the optimum speed, the aircraft is endeavouring to arrive with a safe margin over the stall speed while touching down slow enough to minimise the ground roll and reduce wear on the undercarriage and airframe. Two of the most common complaints relate to long landings and hard landings. Often both can be traced back to the same issue of airspeed. Long landings can result from carrying excessive airspeed into the flare, whereas a hard landing can result when speed is on the low side.

 

 

 

Long landings can absorb copious amounts of runway very quickly. As an aircraft floats down the runway, the chance of an overrun is increased, while extra stress on the undercarriage and brakes often result as they are wrongly used to compensate for the wasted runway in the flare.  Airspeed above that recommended, or calculated for a given weight, equates to additional energy. The additional airflow over the wing results in the aerofoil continuing to provide lift when the task at hand is reduce lift and land the aircraft. This aircraft's resistance to landing can be further exacerbated by the thicker air immediate to the surface known as ‘ground effect’.  Furthermore, a higher airspeed results in more control responsiveness and that subtle flare manoeuvre may now result in the aircraft flying away from the runway.

 

At the other end of the spectrum, should we lose too much speed and energy in the flare, the aircraft, not you, will decide when it is going to land and gravity will play a far greater role than inertia. With low airspeed the controls can feel less responsive and the control column can seemingly be at its aft limit with nothing to left to offer in terms of elevator control. There is no flaring left to be done and the aircraft will simply arrive firmly on the runway; unless we have fortunately timed these events with such precision that they occur just as the wheels touch. Generally though, the aircraft will fall from its flare height to the surface with a thud, if not a bounce.

 

So speed is premium to maintain control effectiveness into the flare and achieve the anticipated responses from our inputs and achieve the desired landing performance. Again, a stable approach to land is one of the best means to the correct airspeed on entering the flare. Configure the aircraft to land and get used to the attitude and feel nice and early. Turbulent conditions and hot days will present a challenge as the airspeed needle flickers, but aim to keep a constant attitude out the front. As the runway looms near, most pilots sneak a ‘last look’ at the airspeed; just a glance, nothing more. Accordingly, the airspeed can be noted as high or low resulting in a slightly earlier reduction in thrust, or perhaps the need to carry it later into the flare to prevent the energy washing off totally.

 

And don’t underestimate that sixth sense in the flare. If it feels like your backside is falling out from under you, trust your instinct and increase the power to arrest the sink. Energy and speed are critical elements in landing, yet long and hard landings are not solely the fault of inadequate speed control. That would be too easy!

 

           Check back soon for Part Four of Ground Rush!

 

A Glass Revolution. An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Glass Revolution


By Owen Zupp

 

The era of digital avionics and glass cockpits is undoubtedly upon us. From Boeings to Beechcraft, the traditional dials are making way for dominant screens presenting a wealth of data with a tremendous visual impact. But are we mere mortals keeping pace as well?

 

The Decision.

The decision for an aircraft or fleet owner to move into the era of glass cockpits is, in the first instance, a practical one. The costs must be weighed against the benefits and the budget balanced against the available hardware. For pilots without a direct financial interest, the upgrade of equipment and new gadgetry is almost unanimously welcomed.

 

Before taking the plunge, it is worthwhile assessing the aircraft to which the new equipment will be fitted. Whether the new flight panel is to supplement the VFR operation of a private aircraft or form the information hub for an IFR workhorse may well determine the style and cost of instrumentation that is needed. Also, is the airframe or engine on their ‘last gasp’ and would a new flight panel be a classic case of over-capitalisation? Perhaps the desire for a new cockpit is actually a catalyst for a fleet renewal or upgrade. In this case, the ever expanding range of low time aircraft with factory fitted EFIS may be an option.

 

However, if breathing new life into an existing aircraft is the more viable scenario, then those glass units suited to retrofitting should be sought out.  The Aspen ‘Revolution’ range is specifically designed to be slotted into the circular voids vacated by the traditional dials, while Bendix-King’s ‘Apex Edge’ series have dimensions that comfortably fill the space normally consumed by a standard panel.

 

The purchase price of these units are significantly less than some of their larger more fancied competitors, but even so, labour costs must be factored in. Retrofits in these relatively early days can be labour intensive and not without hiccups. It is well worth researching an avionics specialist who has experience with the type of equipment you are seeking to fit. Their experience will reduce the man hours involved and they have probably seen any potential issues previously.

 

Ultimately, EFIS will become the dominant format in cockpits of all levels. As the numbers in glass grow and those aircraft with clocks and dials shrink, the balance of costs will reverse to the point where ongoing maintenance of traditional instruments will far outweigh the costs involved with the ‘new generation’. The point at budgetary requirements and operational tasking dictate the change-over to a glass cockpit will rest with the individual owner and operator.

 

 

                    

 

A Brave New World.

The rapid emergence of glass cockpits at all levels of aviation is partly about technology and partly about philosophy. Humans have a tremendous capacity to advance technology, sometimes without considering why and frequently before implementation is adequately planned. The modernisation of cockpits can be seen as such a case.

The rapid emergence of glass cockpits at all levels of aviation is partly about technology and partly about philosophy. Humans have a tremendous capacity to advance technology, sometimes without considering why and frequently before implementation is adequately planned. The modernisation of cockpits can be seen as such a case.

 

A core philosophical argument that commonly arises relates to the training of students on glass from their very first lesson and whether they are losing their ability to truly fly the aeroplane. There is little doubt that when placed in a pilot’s seat and confronted by general aviation’s equivalent to a big-screen TV, the effect can be distracting, if not absolutely hypnotic. Beyond basic flight information, there is a world of moving maps, traffic awareness symbology and synthetic vision technology; all presented in impressive full colour format!

 

In a skill set that has traditionally called for ‘eyes outside’, an appreciation of the real horizon and phrases like ‘seat of the pants’, the new technology doesn’t quite gel. It is offering far more data, but is it dragging the attention away from the real world and losing critical information in the background hash of ‘bells and whistles’? The short answer is yes and no.

 

The wealth of information becoming available through the new systems can only serve to enhance the overall situational awareness of the crew and this is a very good thing. The shortfalls lay more in the interface with the human operator. Varying formats and switching, small displays and low background lighting are all issues that surface from time to time and model to model. The ‘standard six’ have made up traditional instrument panels for decades and cockpit cycles, instrument scans and checklists have all been based on this format. Now, in a period of rapid development, pilots are being asked to modify the previous skill set that has been ingrained from lesson number one. It is not merely a training exercise, it is a cultural shift.

 

It can be successfully achieved however, as evidenced by the implementation of glass and Airbus philosophies at airline level and the Metric system in everyday life. The generation caught in between will always have the greatest challenge, whilst the new minds will adjust their personal base line to the new standard and run with the technology. Whether this new “base line” compromises fundamental pilot skills is a moot point in some regards as the change will happen regardless of any protestations. What needs to occur is a training philosophy that seeks achieve the correct balance of basic flying skill retention while managing all of the resources that are now available.......

Check back soon for the conclusion to "A Glass Revolution."

Five Tips for Choosing a Flying School. An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Friday, March 23, 2012

Five Tips in Choosing a Flying School.

As this aviation blog continues to grow in momentum and followers, the range of topics has been broad, from airline accidents and flight training to aviators of the past and reflections of the pure joy of flight. Accordingly, the range of feedback and aviation-related questions is equally diverse, so over the coming weeks I shall try to address some of these. As there’s no time like the present, here is the first one, “Top Tips for Choosing a Flying School.”

 

Now I won’t pretend for a moment that there’s a magical list to suit all scenarios, but what I can offer are some fundamental requirements that your new flying school should offer you. Prospective students can often feel like overwhelmed novices when they walk into a new flying school and are immediately surrounded by folks in uniforms and epaulettes speaking a strange dialect known as ‘pilot speak’. What is critical at this stage is that you remember that you are a customer and they are endeavouring to sell you a service, so listen carefully to the real words between the sales pitch and be careful with your cash. Take the time to chat with current students of the school as well.

 

Also, do your homework first. Research the aviation regulatory body in your part of the world to see what the minimum requirements are to achieve a licence and then bear in mind that these are absolutely MINIMUM LEGAL REQUIREMENTS. You will require more hours of training than this and this will equate to a higher cost. Additionally, endeavour to define what level of licence you’re looking for. Do you just simply want to go solo to say that you’ve done this or do you aspire to the flight deck of a Boeing 747?    Watch out, you might only want to go solo but find yourself hooked! As such, does the flying school provide comprehensive training all the way through to the commercial licence and ratings? The internet is a great tool in researching various schools and finding those in your area. Armed with a little prior knowledge about their school and your goals, you’re now ready to pay a visit to the local airport and seek out a flying school.

 

Without further ado, here are the tips....

 

1. EQUIPMENT.

What aircraft does the flying school have? Is there a substantial fleet built upon a few types, or is there a ‘Noah’s Ark’ fleet with seemingly two of every type known to man. What you need is a small range of different types, but enough of the type that you will be training in that it won’t be double-booked and leave you stranded or without an aircraft when maintenance falls due. There need to be enough of the aircraft to meet the demands of the school.

 

Additionally, what is the condition of the aircraft? If they are tired and worn out, then that doesn’t suggest much re-investment into the fleet by management. It may be a possible indication of cash-flow issues and a signal that corners might be getting cut elsewhere. Either way, a scrappy looking aeroplane does not reflect the mind-set of a proficient, meticulous pilot, nor does it provide the sort of craft in which you’d like to take a family member aloft.

 

Also, equipment is not limited to aeroplanes. What are the offices and briefing rooms like? Are they modern and equipped with good lighting and furnishings? This is where you’ll be undertaking your all-important briefings and sitting exams, so you want a sound learning environment.

 

2. PEOPLE.

Behind every good flying school are good people. What is the sense of the school when you first walk in? Are the instructors professionally dressed and polite or do they look like they’re auditioning for ‘Top Gun 2’ and you’re kind of in the way? Is there a mix of junior instructors and senior instructors, or just a few youngsters starting out? Personally, I have found some brand new instructors amongst the most dedicated and proficient in the early phases, but they still need mentoring from the old hands. Equally important is a spread of experience so that you are not kept waiting for a senior instructor to check you as you reach the various tests and milestones. Furthermore, to train for a commercial licence, ideally the instructor should have some commercial experience.

 

Take the time to speak with the Chief Flying Instructor. If the CFI doesn’t have time to speak with you on that first day then make a booking to chat when it’s convenient. If this proves difficult, or impossible, than that isn’t a good indicator at a very early stage. I have been a CFI and it can be a very demanding job, but a CFI is also part of the management team and should actively assist a new prospective customer.

 

What is the support staff situation? Is there a full time receptionist attending to the front desk and enquiries, or are bookings and new clients rated as a secondary duty for the flying instructors? Interestingly, in my experience I have found a common feature of good flying schools is a dedicated staff member attending to the front office duties.

 

3. FILES AND FLYING.

 

Ask to see a copy of a training file. Does it look professionally presented, or has the same master file been photocopied for the last twenty years with no thought of re-visiting the syllabus and making it better. Perhaps they are of new a digital, online format. Also have a look at the training notes provided by the school for apparent quality. While you won’t necessarily appreciate the content at this point, if their briefing notes are poorly presented, not readily at hand, or worse, don’t exist at all then this is critical as these notes are the link between the text-book and how the flying school executes the lesson in the air. If they just recommend you purchase a manual and self-study, then that isn’t what you’re looking for.

 

The way in which a school administers its ground-based responsibilities often reflects how they operate in the skies. If attention to the paperwork is poor, then you’ll probably find that it is one of those schools that just want you in the aeroplane, ticking over the meter and then out the door as soon as you’ve paid. Flight training is a broader based undertaking than that; the flight time is critical, but its quality is dependent upon many supporting factors outside the cockpit.

 

 

                     

                    

 

4. LONGEVITY.

 

Is the school well established with a reputation that precedes it? If so, they are probably doing something right as longevity in itself is difficult in the flight training business. I say “probably” because some sharks have been known to live for over seventy years. Hence, the recommendation of past and present students can be invaluable third party information. Bear in mind that a newly established school may also have much to offer; new aeroplanes, unbridled enthusiasm and a desperate need to grow its customer base. They may have poached experienced instructors to provide the expertise and be situated in a new building where the paint has just dried.

 

Longevity should be considered with all prospective schools. Does the operation look like it’s running on a shoe-string and won’t be here in a year? (Sometimes the big, glossy schools suffer from this too). As such, a word of warning, never put large amounts of cash up front for your training. I have seen more than one school close its doors and leave its students thousands of dollars out of pocket. Pay promptly following each lesson, or you may choose to deposit a small amount into an account for ease of payment, but don’t be talked into depositing a whole lot up front.

 

5. COST.

The biggest variable and most critical factor for many is simply the cost. Flight training is not an inexpensive exercise and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is kidding themselves. As with so many things, you’ll get what you pay for. Better aeroplanes will come at a premium above their clapped-out counterparts. Some schools may charge for briefings, but that is more cost efficient than not receiving them and having to repeat flight lessons.

 

There are all manner of costs associated with flying from equipment to text-books. Ask the school at the outset, what you need to purchase and what they provide. What is the price of these ancillary items? Do they provide ground theory training and at what price? What are the hire rates for the aeroplane and is there an additional fee for flight tests, or a lower rate for solo flying. Ask them REALISTICALLY how many hours it generally takes a student to achieve the licence you’re pursuing. What is the breakdown of hours in terms of dual, solo and tests and what is an estimate of the overall cost? Ascertain this figure before you even start and then add on a little to factor in rising process and hiccups along the way. As I said, it won’t be cheap, but you ultimately get what you pay for.

 

 

 

                          

 

 

Learning to fly is a major step, so don’t rush in. Take the time to gather information and ask the right questions of the right people. If the answers are muddled or slow in coming, then that’s probably a ‘red flag’ for how they conduct their business. Quality flying schools don’t hide their costs or information and they’ll take the time to discuss both with you.

 

So there are some tips to set out on your great adventure of flight. It may seem daunting, but it will be well worth it. As I said earlier, these questions are a guide, not a complete answer to all circumstances but they should set you on the right path. Next in this series I’ll relate some of the common traps and pitfalls of flight training, so check back here for the next set of tips.

 

Safe flying!

Owen

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