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


                                                                 

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