True Story

Yep, these actually happened (mostly to me :P )

I had to Learn About Flying from That!

December 24th, 2010

When I was a student pilot, I used to love reading a column in one of the popular aviation magazines (\’Flying - called \”I Learned About Flying from That\”.

I guess many other pilots enjoyed the column, the column is still going and has been published in book form. The attraction was learning about stupid situations others had unwittingly got themselves into, and narrowly – typically by absolute luck – escaped, in the hope of avoiding these situations yourself.

Articles are personal accounts, and normally anonymous, and as with CAHRS (which are also a great read for all pilots), the column permits the author to write freely in a format that is extremely helpful to others.

I\’ve received recently a few similar accounts, and so named the blog series \”I had to Learn About Flying from That\’, as a reference to the great magazine articles, and as a slight deviation on the theme, in an attempt to remind ourselves that we have (I hope!) progressed a great deal from the days that flying was trial and error, and there are many avenues available to prevent you getting into these situations if you pay attention.

The following is a story by a pilot who had to learn the hard way, in his words.

C of G Limits

So…..there we were….in a far away land of wooden curios and Carlsberg beers (greens)….with a C210 …..six up…baggage…fuel and ….wooden curios….all wanting to get back home….which was 6 hours flying time and two stops away.
How do we solve this problem of space/weight/fuel and still get everyone home without leaving anything behind….was what my friend and I found ourselves discussing on a sidewalk in a dusty African City in Central Africa
He had a Be58 Baron to load and I a C210…. All the wooden curios pushed the weight over the all up weight limit and so a compromise had to be found….so we calculated the flying time for the first leg which turned out to be fairly short…a mere 2h20……for a C210 that equates to roughly 140 litres…add some for mum and make it 200 litres….which means we have about 180 litres of weight available …roughly 160kg…GREAT …problem solved…..
When I walked the pax to the plane I noticed the tail was very near the ground and the nose wheel oleo rather stretched….okay I thought…load the front pax first and the rear last….that worked a charm and then when I started the engine the propwash pulled the nose down and all appeared fine….so off we taxi and trundle to the holding point. Take-off is fine and the climb to altitude is fine…level off and we go cruising along at 150kts….start the descent…fuel is still good although the gauges are extremely close to the big E but I`m expecting that cause of the calculated fuel which means there should only be about 60 litres in the tanks….30 a side….hence the almost empty gauge.
Everything is going smoothly and I round out for the flare….throttle to idle and….and…..wheeyyy….she sits on her butt ….and those spring steel undercarriage legs bounce us back up again….and I push forward on the stick cause the nose is way high….and pull back as we come down again….and those spring steel legs do there thing again…with more enthusiasm…..and again I push forward and pull back as we come down….and again we are flung into the air….much higher this time…and much slower….the elevator and wings are losing effectiveness…the thought enters my mind that if we hit again…something will break….and so instead of pushing forward I hold it sort of straight and level and firewall the throttle….and we sink back towards the runway and touch fairly softly….nose high and then I push the nosewheel down and close the throttle….and then only notice we`ve used up half of a 4000m runway bringing the beast back under control.
Its rather quiet in the plane as we taxi to the apron….

I never took into account the movement of the C of G with the fuel burn….it moved even further back than its limit at take-off….and when I closed the throttle on landing…it did what nature wanted it to do…sit on its butt.

Thank goodness for a long runway, some natural instinct, and that there was no engine failure in a critical stage ….it would have been nasty.

And the moral of the storey? Weight and balance calculations are taught for a reason, not just to irritate student pilots during ground studies!


There are many resources available to prevent you needing to learn the hard way. A considerable amount are free online resources, others are part of your basic training which will be missed if you don\’t complete homework, and some are books which are not more than a few USD, most importantly they are all a thousand times cheaper than an accident, and at least on tenth of a flying hour on most aircraft.

The major investment required in most training and preparation avenues available for improved safety is your time, and considering the return on investment – that is, reducing your own and your passengers risk of loosing their lives, isn\’t it surprising how few people want to invest?

If you carry on reading, you\’ve probably committed to the first step towards improving your own airmanship, do your passengers and all of us involved in aviation a favour, and keep it up.

Cessna Training Manuals

Deer on the Runway

December 11th, 2010

I found this on

I’ve heard it before, but it’s not been posted here before. As for myth busters, again I am really sure this happened somewhere to someone, if not more than once….so enjoy!

CFI and his Student are holding on the runway for departing cross traffic when suddenly a deer runs out of the nearby woods, stops in the middle of the runway, and just stands there looking at them.

Tower: Cessna XXX cleared for take-off.
Std: “What should I do? What should I do?”
Inst: “What do you think you should do?”
Std: “Maybe if I taxi toward him it’ll scare him away.”
Inst: “That’s a good idea.”
(Taxi toward deer, but deer is macho, and holds position.)
Tower: Cessna XXX cleared for take-off, runway NN.
Std: “What should I do? What should I do?”
Inst: “What do you think you should do?”
Std: “Maybe I should tell the tower.”
Inst: “That’s a good idea.”
Std: Cessna XXX, uh, there’s a deer down here on the runway.
(long pause)
Tower: Roger XXX, hold your position. Deer on runway NN cleared for immediate departure.
(Two seconds, and then — by coincidence — the deer bolts from the runway, and runs back into the woods.)
Tower: Cessna XXX cleared for departure, runway NN. Caution wake turbulence, departing deer.

Instrument Departures

October 16th, 2010

The previous post has got lost somewhere deep down in my blog. This topic is quite controversial and in my (somewhat humble) opinion quite important. So I’m going to post another one just to see if anyone out there in cyberspace can post a more meaningful reply.

JAR-OPS 1.230 Instrument departure and approach procedures

(a) An operator shall ensure that instrument departure and approach procedures established by the State in which the aerodrome is located are used.

(b) Notwithstanding sub-paragraph (a) above, a commander may accept an ATC clearance to deviate from a published departure or arrival route, provided obstacle clearance criteria are observed and full account is taken of the operating conditions. The final approach must be flown visually or in accordance with the established instrument approach

(c) Different procedures to those required to be used in accordance with sub-paragraph (a) above may only be implemented by an operator provided they have been approved by the State in which the aerodrome is located, if required, and accepted by the Authority.

The part “to deviate from a published departure or arrival route, provided obstacle clearance criteria are observed and full account is taken of the operating conditions” clearly indicates that you can not deviate in IMC where clearance from obstacles could not be guaranteed. And if you are below MSA (or MRA), the only time you could guarantee obstacle clearance is if you are following a published track.

The same paragraph exists in UAE CAROPS (even with the same number) and a very similar paragraph exists in the Namibian CARs and the content is implied by the entire PANS OPS Section 3 Departure Procedures. The entire PANS OPS II goes into great detail explaining the calculations involved in determining the compliance with terrain avoidance for departures – none of which anyone could be expected (neither pilot or ATC) to complete on departure.

If a country does not have departure procedures then the airport must comply with the omnidirectional departure requirements, that is – there are no obstacles in the departure which prevent an omni directional departure at 3.3%.

Many pilots believe you can depart in IMC without a departure procedure. In fact in some countries, it is a routinely done and no one seems to think there is any problem with it.

The whole essence of PANS Ops II is to define how to construct safe tracks for pilots to follow when they are below the applicable MSA (that means also MRA if you don’t have a precision radar service!).

If you were allowed to fly around below MSA (or MRA) without a published track, wouldn’t you be allowed to do it at all times? I mean what is the difference between being below MSA on arrival or on departure except the direction the nose is pointing? (The mountains hurt just as much when you hit them on a climb as they do when you hit them on a decent!)

Besides from that, when we look at relative costs, if you have gone to the expense of establishing and maintaining an instrument approach procedure, it cost very little extra to publish a departure procedure, and if you haven’t then it’s simple to apply the same weather minimums for arrival and departure, VMC below MSA.

Again the only time the pilot/operator is responsible for his/her own terrain clearance is in VMC or in an emergency.

I think this sums it up fairly nicely, but I am sure I will get some variations of interpretations on this paragraph, since it does not say “where one exists” but nor does it say “at all times” but lets get some debate on this!

Hot, Heavy and High

August 28th, 2010

HOT HIGH and HEAVY: In the Words of the Pilot who Lived to Tell the Tale.

“It was a Cherokee140….or a Pa28 in those days….nobody told me it wasn’t supposed to carry 4 people…I mean come on…it had 4 seats didn’t it…?

This particular 140 had a Pink Panther on the tail and it was a little faster and just slightly better than a regular 140 … of those “slick” models.

Anyway there I was with 3 friends at an airfield which I won`t name with an elevation of around 5300ft amsl. We had places to go on this warmish summer day and I was not about to be deterred by anything….I mean the friends are all waiting to be impressed and flown to various destinations after all.

So…pre flight done…..only half tanks because the rest had been used to get to this airfield…..lets all get aboard this fly machine shall we. Me first cause there is only one door and then the two friends in the back who were the smaller two…I knew that much at least….and the other big guy up front with me in last……quick weight calculation…what..? nah never mind we`ve only got half tanks…we`ll be okay…right?

Taxi out…do the run ups…do the radio…its an unmanned airfield so just a broadcast…listen out and we’re good to go.

The first indication things were not as they should be was the sluggish acceleration….Oh boy… a slight uphill strip, followed by a bit of a ridge about 1km after the end of the rwy which is about 200` higher than the rwy, and then a valley with power lines….my favourite….not !!!

so there we were….trundling down the rwy…airspeed creeping and I mean creeping up…and eventually we`re airborne….but only just…the slightest back movement of the stick sets the stall warning off…and a 140 does not have an audio stall warning, thank goodness….it has a red light right in front of you….Well this light was going off at me like an ambulance ..flash ..flashflash…..flash….flashflash…flaaaashh….flashflash…you get the picture?…And we are 20` off the deck just maintaining the slope of the ground airspeed going nowhere….oh boy…those power lines are sure getting big mighty quick….At last over the ridge we go and down…yes down we go into the slight valley….and under…the power lines, and then I notice we have a decent airspeed and the lunatic flashing has stopped….so clear of the power lines I gently coax some altitude out of the Pink Panther and after 40 minutes we`re at 3000` above ground and approaching destination. The friends are happy, impressed and none the wiser of their brush with near disaster. I kept it high until short final …sure of making the runway in case of engine failure and greased it on to the rwy.

I should NOT have done the flight with the weight I had onboard…..but in those early days wise decisions eluded me…”

Many faults exist in the GA training sectors, and one of them, sadly, is a lack of emphasis on performance planning. Pilot’s often train at an airfield that is long enough for their aircraft, cross countries are conducted into similar large airfields. Instructors neglect to instil any reverence for confirming performance calculations during ground training, leaving pilots ambivalent to the threats of a short rough pr high altitude course.

An aircraft at sea level on the coast, in cool temperatures close to ISA, and an aircraft in the interior highlands at ISA +30 provide very different lift characteristics. A graded, highly compact, well used runway will likewise, have very different acceleration to a rough, over-grown, poorly prepared farm strip. It’s not forbidden but nor are there any figures for a rough gravel strip. It is forbidden and the are NO figures for an overweight aircraft. Most light four seat aircraft cannot fly with four normal sized people and full tanks.

The Pilot Who Wasn’t so Lucky

In another similar situation, at Windhoek 5500ft AMSL with an ambient temperature approximately 35 degrees Celsius, giving a density altitude just over 9000ft, a commercial pilot, normally flying on the coast, with a similar mindset, made a fatal decision.

Windshear reported on the main runway prompted ATC to offer the pilot the secondary runway. The runway was 1000m long, and more than adequate for a fully loaded C210 at sea level. The pilot knew the airfield, and hadn’t felt the need to carry airport charts, so asked ATC how long the secondary runway was. ATC provided an incorrect figure of 1500m, which he later corrected to 1000m, however the pilot had already entered the runway and to backtrack to the threshold, and a change of runway now may have appeared to him a loss of face in front of passengers. Considering the risks and benefits, thinking the length of the runway should be adequate, since it was not much shorter than the airfield he normally operated out of at sea level, this may have been a deciding factor.

This pilot wasn’t so lucky.

Shortly after takeoff the aircraft failed to gain altitude and when the pilot attempted to turn to avoid climbing terrain, he stalled, the aircraft impact with terrain and fire killing everyone on board.

Link to Article Containing Fairly Accurate Details of the Accident Report
Link to Forum Discussion on the Accident detailing some History and Photos

The Lessons?
What I want to ask here, is when are we going to start learning these lessons in ground school, and not in near misses and accidents.

When are we going to learn that the cost and time invested in training is far less than that of our passengers lives?

Both of these scenarios would never have happened if the pilots had had proper training to really get to know the performance and handling of aircraft they were operating and had taken the time to consider the proper, mandatory pre-flight planning.

The Curious Saga of the Cessna and the Lawnmower

August 26th, 2010

Take one brand-new Cessna 182, with only 80 hours on it.

Put a lawn mower (with gas in it) in the back seat. Add a power inverter with a laptop plugged into it.

Slosh out a little gas during and after landing. And just as the pilot smells the vapors and starts feeling around for the leak, add a spark.

Don’t add a cabin fire extinguisher—the pilot had removed it because it got in his way.

Add fire trucks, about 15 minutes later.

Spend a few minutes thinking about what this would have been like airborne.


Exchange of Terms

June 1st, 2010

A common saying, modified for aviation:

“Better to open your mouth and appear stupid, than demonstrate without a doubt that you are.”

Those of you in aviation will appreciate the irony of the reversal of the old saying: “Better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you are stupid, than open it an demonstrate you are.”, and how well this adaption suits both training and aviation industries, and possibly many others.

Another one that springs to mind from that is, “There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers.”

Pilot Personality – ALPA

April 19th, 2010

This post has been attributed to ALPA, the American airline pilot’s association. We used it to back up a commonly used phrase in the MCC (multi-crew cooperation) course I teach that most typical pilot personalities should not be allowed in the modern multi-crew environment. I like to try to cushion the blow by adding the word ‘male’ to the ‘most typical pilots’ phrase – but reading this, unfortunately, it’s all too true! Fortunately, the statement that being aware of your deficiencies is the first step to fixing them, is also true. And courses like MCC and CRM, if taken seriously and not just as a box to tick, are helping us all with the rest of the steps, to ensure the additional crew members do help make the operation safer.

The Pilot Personality (courtesy of ALPA)

Pilots are a distinct segment of the general population. In addition to flying skills, pilots are selected for their personalities and for a distinct “pilot persona.” These characteristics make them safer pilots.
Pilots tend to be physically and mentally healthy. Pilots tend to be “reality based,” because by the very nature of their work they are constantly testing reality. There are those, however who would dispute this claim.
Pilots tend to be self-sufficient and may have difficulty functioning in team situations without CRM and other training. They have difficulty trusting anyone to do the job as well as they can. Pilots tend to be suspicious, even a little paranoid. In moderation, this quality serves them well within their environment and is, in fact, a quality that managements look for in the pilot personality. Outside the cockpit, this quality shows up in the tendency of many pilots to set two or three alarm clocks– even though he or she may generally wake up before any of these go off. The suspicious/paranoid tendency also affects the way pilots function in their private lives, as well.
Pilots tend to be intelligent but are typically not intellectually oriented. They like “toys”– boats, cars, motorcycles, big watches, etc. They are good at taking things apart, if not putting them back together. Pilots are concrete, practical, linear thinkers rather than abstract, philosophical, or theoretical. On a scale that ranges from analytically oriented to emotionally oriented, pilots tend to be toward the analytical end. They are extremely reality- and goal-oriented. They like lists showing concrete problems, not talking about them. This goal orientation tends towards the short term as opposed to the long term. Pilots are bimodal: on/off, black/white, good/bad, safe/unsafe, regulations/non-regulations.
Pilots are inclined to modify their environment rather than their own behaviour. Pilots need excitement; a 9-to-5 job would drive most pilots to distraction. Pilots are competitive, being driven by a need to achieve, and don’t handle failure particularly well. Pilots have a low tolerance for personal imperfection, and long memories of perceived injustices.
Pilots tend to be scanners, drawing conclusions rapidly about situational facts. Pilots scan people as if they were instruments; they draw conclusions at a glance rather than relying on long and emotion-laden conversations.
Pilots avoid introspection and have difficulty revealing, expressing, or even recognizing their feelings. When they do experience unwanted feelings, they tend to mask them, sometimes with humour or even anger. Being unemotional helps pilots deal with crises, but can make them insensitive toward the feelings of others. The spouses and children of pilots frequently complain that the pilot has difficulty expressing complex human emotions toward them.
This emotional “block” can create difficulty communicating. How many incidents or accidents have occurred due to poor communications? The vast majority of Professional Standards cases will be caused by poor communication.

Cessna 182 Landings

March 19th, 2010

I saw this discussion, on Cessna Owner Organisation’s forums ,, pilots debating techniques to land a C182.

I had to add a bit of a rant, I’ll post it here, just in case the rant is felt unwelcome, so here it is:

C182s are just like any other plane with the odd difference:
They are less forgiving than C172s in terms of you must fly them at the right speeds, and you must apply positive control to keep them where you want them- they are quite twitchy, and too fast they balloon, too slow they drop! Especially with weight in the tail (the foam sometimes gets waterlogged and can cause different behaviour in trim).
I’ve seen students cock up landings, and I’ve cocked up a fair few myself when I was a relatively low time pilot.
A C182, IMHO, is not recommended for someone with low time (<60hours) but if you do try it, get some thorough training, and train till you really feel comfortable.
Landing techniques: All the Cessna high wings I have flown are quite happy with the same technique, only the speeds and weight on the controls change. This requires approach at the right speed, and height for the type of approach, then approaching the round out, smoothly power off, level off, then hold off, and, while level, wait for the tail to drop, which it will do as the speed drops if you keep the plane level – matching the amount of pull to the reduction in speed – avoiding a balloon or a sink, until the stall warning occurs. If this has been done at the right height, at this point you will be just off the ground, then simply the bum will drop and the main wheels will touch. (Easier said than done, of course!)
With a strong cross wind or flapless, you may want to touch down at a slightly higher speed.
(A colleague once said to me – advice on landing the C210: just get the a**e down, helped me tremendously, and 100% effective in reducing the potentially costly nose wheel landing, made me lol at the time, but I never forgot it)
Trimming up slightly if you find the elevator heavy for the flare, is quite acceptable, meaning you are flying the approach pushing forward. Glide approaches are fine but tend to be quite steep and bad for the engine, so power on approaches (approach not flare) are the recommended, and probably fit with the normal circuit approach more.
Keeping power on in the flare: my advice, to everyone I’ve seen who tries it, and I’ve heard it especially in C182s, C210s and C310s, is poor technique to cover up poor handling, and a few circuits later I have them convinced it’s not needed. Really sorry to be harsh, but it’s not recommended by the book, and quite unsafe, if you fly a technique all the time, there’s a chance you’ll do it when you need not to be (eg short field – see the Qantas accident B747 with motor habit on regular non use of thrust reverse).
My advice, and sorry this also may not be welcome advice, but to help curb the C182 accident rate, grab an instructor you know and like, who has some experience on the C182, and do some circuits, especially in bumpy crosswinds or on short field conditions.
Hate to see a good plane get a bad rep, personally it’s really my favourite of all I’ve flown from 150s to 737s, although the C150A comes a close second.
Hope this may be of help.

Aviation Myths – more funnies

January 17th, 2010

These two aviation myths have been around for some time, and I suspect there is some truth to them as with most of the myths placed here – typically some details have been changed, for poetic license, or through the process of the Chinese whisper.
Anyone who has a lead to some proof of origin please comment!

Space Race

During the height of the space race in the 1960s, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration decided it needed a ball point pen to write within the zero gravity confines of its space capsules. After considerable research and development, the ‘Astronaut Pen’ was developed at a cost of about 1million US$. The pen worked and also enjoyed some modest success as a novelty item back here on earth.
The Soviet Union, faced with the same problem, used a pencil.

Aircraft Windshield Testing

The British Aerospace industry developed a unique device for testing the strength of windshields on aircraft. The device is a gun that launches a dead chicken at a plane’s windshield at approximately the speed the plane flies.

The theory is that if the windshield doesn’t crack from the carcass impact, it’ll survive a real collision with a bird during flight. Other countries were very interested in this, including the an American aircraft manufacturer.

The Americans borrowed the chicken launcher, loaded the chicken and fired. The ballistic chicken shattered the windshield, went through the pilot’s chair and embedded itself in the back wall of the cockpit. Stunned at the results, they asked the British to recheck the test to see if everything was done correctly.

The British reviewed the test thoroughly and had one recommendation: “Try defrosting the chickens.”

ATC Complaints

June 24th, 2009

We all know ATC are trying hard to do their job, and to achieve the objectives of ‘safe and efficient’ flow of traffic. Which is compounded when you have a busy environment like JNB, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. Especially when you have seen the situation handled better by someone perhaps with a bit more experience.
For many Airlines which are bottomless job creation pits designed to extract tax payers money, it is a minor inconvenience, but for smaller charter operators, who have a small but very critical profit margin, it can be the difference between profit and loss on a flight, and overall well being of the company.
We do understand and presume all ATC are trying to do their job to the best of their ability, but this article below, archived from the Arfican Pilot newsletters, explains nicely some of the frustration felt from the pilot’s point of view.


Phoebus Apollo photo shoot on Sunday
Visitors to the Harvard Café were treated to an exciting photo shoot at Rand Airport where we parked two DC-9s and a DC-3 on the concrete ramp right outside the historic terminal building for a photo sortie. Hennie Delport flew me in a Robinson helicopter to capture these exciting images for future marketing purposes. Rand Airport’s ATCs were very professional as usual in accommodating the Robbie 22.

However, the ATCs at Johannesburg International Airport leave much to be desired. One of the DC-9s had to reposition to Rand Airport for the photo session, but was kept at the holding point for 45 minutes burning expensive Jet A1. Do ATCs realise that this aircraft probably burnt more fuel in value waiting for a departure slot than some of them earn in a month? Phoebus Apollo often repositions various aircraft types to and from FAJS to FAGM without any delays when suitably qualified controllers are on duty. The VFR flight takes all of three minutes, yet the frustration of having to deal with controllers who do not understand the logistics of aircraft. Unfortunately, several people were delayed as a direct result of the controller’s inability to manage a slightly unusual situation.

Later in the day when the DC-9 had repositioned back to FAJS a brand new Gulfstream taxied its left winglet into the tail cone of the DC-9 knocking the cone clean off the aircraft. The pilot has a cursory look out of his left window and continued taxing to the holding point for an international flight, asking for “immediate line-up and take-off.” Due to the fact that the Phoebus Apollo pilots had witnessed the accident and telephoned ATC to report this, the Gulfstream was denied clearance and told to return to the ramp. The company operations were fuming, but what about the passengers? Does a professional pilot simply continue with the flight after an accident of this nature?

(Note to) South African ATCs
Please note that the above is not intended to ‘have a go’ at South African ATCs; indeed many ATCs are good friends of African Pilot. However, some ATCs have great difficulty understanding the cost involved in keeping aircraft airborne. In addition, the unnecessary time wasted at the holding points is a huge cost to the operator as well as being very bad for aircraft engines. It appears that better performance and accountability is what is required from ATNS management from individual air traffic controllers.

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