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A Few Words About That Idaho Crash...

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Last week's video of the crash of a Stinson 108-3 in the Idaho outback drew intense attention and the predictable lynching by YouTube of the pilot by post-accident armchair experts. I'm not willing to go that far, but the video does give rise this question: As the industry attempts to lower the fatal accident rate, how can we get inside the head of a pilot who would take the risks evident in this video? Assuming no mechanical failure—and none was obvious—how do we train pilots to recognize when they've crossed the risk threshold from edgy into likely accident?

To summarize, the group took off in a heavily loaded Stinson—four aboard--from Bruce Meadows at an elevation of about 6300 feet at a density altitude the NTSB calculated at almost 9200 feet. The intended route of flight might have been toward higher terrain, some of it rising to as much as 9000 feet. The Stinson 108-3 was last built in the late 1940s to 1950, with a Franklin 165-HP engine. So it's a CAR 3 airplane, meaning it probably doesn't have any much less good performance tables. The Stinson is relatively light with a typical useful load of around 1000 pounds. With four people and reasonable fuel, it will be near gross weight.

As a surrogate, I used data from the Cessna 172R, which has about the same power, but whose empty weight is a little higher with a lower useful load. At 6000 feet on a ISA +20-degree day, the 172 needs 3500 feet of runway to clear a 50-foot obstacle. Bruce Meadows is 5000 feet, so adding a 20 percent margin makes it still doable. The problem then becomes climb rate. At 9100 denalt, the 172 POH gives a climb rate between 200 and 300 FPM and it'll get worse the higher you go. Knock a safety margin off that and you basically have no climb rate worthy of the name. And you certainly wouldn't have any reserve climb for the downdrafts that aren't unusual in the mountains.

Pilots fly in and out of these mountain strips in all kinds of airplanes, some of them low powered. But the ones that expect to survive keep the airplanes light, try to make the takeoffs in the early-morning cool and probably remember to ground lean to get best power.

And they're largely successful. We write about density altitude accidents in the aviation press, but there really aren't many of them. Searching a couple of years of NTSB data, I found two in Idaho and two in Colorado, just to use two representative western mountain states. There are far more fuel exhaustion accidents than denalt accidents. Perhaps pilots are just getting wiser.

Still, I can't explain why the pilot involved here didn't pick up on the needle going red when that Stinson wouldn't get off the runway or climb well. In this news clip, a reporter interviewed three of the occupants, including the pilot. She obviously failed to ask any of the questions a pilot would, so there's more heat than light.

Not that it really matters. In my view, they did a terrific service in posting the crash video online. Nothing could do a better job of saying: don't do this.

Comments (110)

Thank God there were no fatalities.

Posted by: Phil Derosier | August 11, 2012 6:06 PM    Report this comment

Not enough... mixture seems "full rich" - check last weeks video and hit "pause" @ 6:20

Posted by: Thomas Myers | August 11, 2012 8:03 PM    Report this comment

They were lucky no one got badly hurt, for us pilots, its a "don't attempt this at home...", the pilot should aborted the takeoff as he noted the slow roll and that many runway he was using, but no one here knows and im shure he wont tell, what was going on in his head on that very moment. We all done stupid things, and some one is luckier that other to be able to tell and not be doing that again. For him and the FAA, well that relationship is over. And the passengers, well if they don't wana climb in another "little dangerous airplane" i don't blame. Joe

Posted by: joe kawage | August 11, 2012 11:55 PM    Report this comment

The lesson for me is that a pilot should consider other options sometimes. I once almost ground looped while landing at my home field. It never occurred to me while landing in the 20 knot crosswind to go to a nearby field and wait a while. This pilot could have tested the takeoff solo or with one passenger and then fly one at time to a longer or lower field and proceed from there.

Posted by: Bill Berson | August 12, 2012 4:02 PM    Report this comment

In this particular video linked above, I see the mixture knob full forward at 0:17 (during takeoff) and at 3:24 (slo-mo of the impact with the trees).

Posted by: Unknown | August 12, 2012 11:49 PM    Report this comment

Mixture full rich at over 9000ft = no power. With the mixture set properly this takeoff was doable. IF, which I hope was the case, the pilot leaned while flying in, why didn't he leave the setting there? No need to "enrich" for takeoff at 9000ft.... Also, why not accelerate in ground effect instead of pulling close to stall creating a lot of induced drag... The red knob is not taught enough.

Posted by: Robert Ziegler | August 13, 2012 5:41 AM    Report this comment

I had a more complete (and interesting?) comment on this accident, but Avweb's horrible setup threw it away so I couldn't get it back because of some silly cookie problem (so they claim). It would be nice if they saved the comment when this problem comes up - as it often does.

The thoughts that I had reviewing this accident and video had two general lines. The first was a comment that the pilot seemed to stick firmly to his flight plan when he might have altered his path to fly over lower ground after he got airborne.

The second thought was a question about how old this pilot was when he first started flying. I remember an interesting fact brought out years ago about which pilots tend to survive inadvertent IMC encounters. It turned out those who started flying at a relatively young age were most likely to survive the IMC problem. They even fared better than those who had instrument ratings.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | August 13, 2012 5:47 AM    Report this comment

Well said Paul.

Posted by: john hogan | August 13, 2012 6:13 AM    Report this comment

"It turned out those who started flying at a relatively young age were most likely to survive the IMC problem."

I don't see that sort of conclusion anywhere from anyone. Richard Collins and Paul Craig both note that flight into terrain is survivable if the pilot remains in control (CFIT with a purpose?). What saved them was the pilot not stalling the Stinson. Read both of these books; "The Next Hour: The most important hour in your logbook" by Richard Collins and "The Killing Zone" by Paul Craig. Both books should be mandatory reading as far as I'm concerned...

Posted by: John Bryant | August 13, 2012 6:50 AM    Report this comment

So, John, if you never saw the story about survival of inadvertent IMC anywhere from anyone does that make me nobody from nowhere?

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | August 13, 2012 7:00 AM    Report this comment

Ease up, Paul. I don't think John was calling you nobody from nowhere. He was simply challenging the claimed correlation between accident rate and early pilot experience. Can you cite the data?

In two separate news reports I saw mention that this pilot was a Vietnam Nam-era aviator. I don't know the veracity of this nor what bearing it may have, if any.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 13, 2012 7:44 AM    Report this comment

Yes, early aircraft had no real POH and no reliable data to make performance calculations from. Yet, later a/c that did have "data" need to have those numbers fudged by a +30% factor, and even then, who knows. Watching the video, I was struck by the incredible length of the takeoff roll, and the settling. Very nice long runway, amazingly so, plenty of time to abort. Why did he not? Data or not, the plane was not only talking to him, but screaming. Like most "4-place" aircraft of the era, the ability to fill all 4 seats is limited at best, even at sea level. I don't think we need to collectively assume guilt for this one, judgement is a quality that is hard to come by for some.

Posted by: Bill Mcclure | August 13, 2012 7:58 AM    Report this comment

No matter what mistakes were made, adhering to one simple rule could have avoided this outcome. Every single take off we make should have a calculated abort point based on remaining distance and indicated airspeed. Had he followed this rule we would not be having this discussion.

Posted by: Ric Lee | August 13, 2012 8:10 AM    Report this comment

To those involved who posted this on YouTube, thank you. My experience is, the further down the chain of events that leads to an accident the harder it is to reverse course. Obviously, not aborting the takeoff was an improper decision. Not putting it in the grass off airport prior to the trees also not correct, but the decision to fly into the airport with that load is where the accident could have been most easily prevented. In the best case, leaned properly, accelerate in ground effect, fly toward lower terrain it was still going to be dicey. An acknowledgment of the operating envelope, both aircraft and personal,and a commitment to operate well within it allows for errors without catastrophic consequences.

Posted by: Tommy Williams | August 13, 2012 8:20 AM    Report this comment

Paul, You suggest and I acknowledge that 'the Risks Evident in this video' are apparent. However, as pilots we are responsible to evaluate performance conditions during our flight planning routine. My recent experience in Gunnison suggests that Even a Turbo Cirrus at a 10,000 foot Density Altitude exhibits relaxed performance and extended 3000' plus takeoff rolls. That morning, Not only the Take Off was Planned but also the Abort. My aviation background includes accident investigation with the purpose to learn and inform our aviator friends that there is a continued need to perform Risk management via those basic planning methods our Flight Instructors provided many years ago. The science of Human Performance Risks indicate that following those trained planning standards with check lists Do result in fewer mishaps which may cause fatal results.

Posted by: Philip Potts | August 13, 2012 8:50 AM    Report this comment

Agree with all the comments re mixture, opportunities to abort, etc. From what I gather, it appears the pilot flew into this remote-looking airport with the same three passengers. One can imagine he would have felt a lot of pressure not to leave a passenger on the ground, if he'd just flown in with them all. The decision to land at this high altitude strip was what started this chain of events. While I like to believe I would have opted to abort after the first bounce on the runway, I do give this pilot credit for flying the plane into the trees, rather than creating a stall spin situation trying to avoid them. That is why they all lived.

Posted by: David Brandon | August 13, 2012 8:59 AM    Report this comment

Many Russians apparently have small, dashboard mounted cameras permanently recording when they drive to lessen legal / bribery complications if they have an accident. I wonder how long before aviation authorities think it will be a good idea for small aircraft -- a sort of black box on the cheap?

Posted by: Brian McCulloch | August 13, 2012 9:01 AM    Report this comment

As a pilot who flies in the Midwest, I occasionally fly to western Colorado. In addition to the comments made about flying only in the cooler part of the day and leaning before takeoff, it is recommended to fly at no more than 90 percent of gross weight and abort any takeoff when the plane is not ready to fly half- way down the runway.

Posted by: Rich Oleszczuk | August 13, 2012 9:04 AM    Report this comment

Paul B. OK, I overreacted to the choice of words made by Mr. Bryant. I always have the same reaction to those who think anything printed between the covers of a book or magazine are true while other comments are worthless.

I did not say or mean to say this particular pilot was inexperienced or a new guy. I just wondered if that was the case. Indeed I was hoping to move the discussion away from second guessing this poor guy and his accident to something more useful for us all.

On the study that pointed out the safety factor that seems to go along with a young training age for pilots I cannot supply exact reference. I read this many years ago. I think it was an article in Aviation Safety that presented the information. It could easily have been way back in the 1980's.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | August 13, 2012 9:10 AM    Report this comment

I once owned a Stinson 108-2 with a 165 hp Franklin. The first time I flew it at sea level with full fuel and 3 beefy occupants taught me a quick lesson as the performance was dismal. This Idaho accident was a classic gross weight/high DA scenario.

Posted by: Michael Young | August 13, 2012 9:17 AM    Report this comment

Philip, it goes back to my original question: How do we get inside the head of pilots not recognizing these risks? We have saturated the safety literature with articles about the danger of denalt, there are mountain flying videos and courses, you get this material on the PP knowledge exam.

If we truly can't teach judgement and risk recognition to a certain percentage of the pilot population, then we are not going to move the accident rate down. Or maybe the only hope is to teach it to new pilots coming into the field.

I have my doubts it can be done.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 13, 2012 9:20 AM    Report this comment

I noticed that the pilot looks like he ate the panel. I guess he wishes he had gotten around to installing shoulder harnesses.

Posted by: Jim Howard | August 13, 2012 9:22 AM    Report this comment

Density Altitude accidents are far more sneaky than fuel exhaustion or flying into IMC because the problem is usually not evident until it is too late. I flew a Tri-Pacer out of a 1300 ft strip for many years with various loadings. Like the Stinson, the Tri-Pacer has no performance tables so I made my own from data I collected on every single flight. Lack of climb performance was my biggest concern and I for darn sure wasn't going to let it happen. Sometimes you have to ferry your load piecewise to a bigger airstrip to make it safe. I got lots of complaints and/or ridicule for doing this, but I'm still here and unfortunately some of them aren't. Peer pressure to carry a full load is the twin brother to "get there-itis".

Posted by: A Richie | August 13, 2012 9:28 AM    Report this comment

This accident happened the night before when the pilot decided to fly into a high alititude strip with four people in the airplane and fly out that afternoon. I fly from Texas to Colorado several times a year and used to live in Colorado with a Cherokee 140. I learned early you are through flying by 1:00 pm local time, period. All the comments about the long takeoff roll, mixture rich are right on, yet one of the passengers, and some commentors, have given this pilot credit for not killing them because he flew it into the trees!Please!

Posted by: Barton Robinett | August 13, 2012 9:43 AM    Report this comment

I used to own a Cessna 140, which I flew around mountainous terrain a few times - with the C85 engine, its lack of power made me incredibly cautious.

Not in the C140, but I know the awful feeling of being at treetop level and unable to climb. A couple of years ago I was towing a rather ponderous glider (a Franco-Italian monstrosity called an M200) with our Auster towplane (of only 160 horsepower). Not only was the glider heavy and draggy, but just about the time we passed the departure end of the runway the airbrakes came part open - they'd not been properly locked closed. It's usual to hit a bit of sink, and for the first couple of seconds the lack of climb didn't really worry me, I thought we had just hit some sink off the end of the runway and we'd soon pass through it. But it didn't end. You have to fight with all your mental strength to avoid the temptation to pull up and try and milk some climb out of it, because it will only make things worse. Having little time to try and diagnose the problem, I was going to find a safe place to dump the glider - navigating through the gaps in the trees for a suitable field, I didn't want to dump them straight into a stand of trees - I was just about to pull the release when the glider pilot realised what the problem was, closed the airbrakes, and we began to climb. But the ten or so seconds of being stuck at tree top height, not climbing at all, looking for a reasonably safe place to dump the glider were not exactly fun.

Posted by: Dylan Smith | August 13, 2012 9:55 AM    Report this comment

Paul B. I'm afraid I agree with your doubts about pilot judgement and inability to reduce the accident rates.

While there are lots of pilots who are well trained, concerned about safety, and strive to fly in a professional manner there are also a growing number of pilots who are older and less attuned to the real dangers of aviation. I think this is part of the result of general aviation becoming more of a hobby for older folks than a vibrant means of transportation for business. There are still some business users in GA but they tend to opt for the higher performance of turbine power and professional pilots than the traveling salesman in his Piper Cherokee going from town to town to visit his customers.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | August 13, 2012 9:58 AM    Report this comment

Paul Mulwitz: I question your comment about older pilots being higher risk takers. I'm 70, and received the FAA Master Pilot Award last year. Among my many friends in aviation, I see much more risky behavior in younger " bullet proof" pilots. This is obvious to me in aerobatics and warbirds flying, as well as those who only fly straight and level.

Posted by: Jim KLick | August 13, 2012 10:35 AM    Report this comment

It would be very interesting to find out if the pilot in this video had previous experience flying in high terrain. Given the (apparently) rich mixture setting and failure to abort when he had lots of runway left and little climb performance, I would guess he isn't an experienced mountain pilot. Most pilots who fly in high terrain regularly learn to plan better than he did (or don't survive).

If he is an experience high-terrain pilot, then I have to agree with Paul's pessimism about ever teaching some pilots good judgment.

Posted by: Jonathan Spencer | August 13, 2012 10:39 AM    Report this comment

I hope I am not repeating other comments, but the obvious observation I had on this video was the fact that the pilot had room to land straight ahead in at least two different locations after he saw the performance was not sufficient for a safe climb out.

Posted by: Craig Cantrell | August 13, 2012 10:41 AM    Report this comment

This one caught my eye because we were in nearby Sulphur Creek Ranch (approximately same altitude, shorter runway) just days after this accident. DA was about the same for us and the old A-36 ate up well over half of the 2800 foot usable even with only 2-and-bags.

These high-country strips are wonderful fun but for us low-country types a few experimental flights in & out at progressively increasing weights & DA conditions are the only way to actually get the "gut" attuned to how degraded your bird's performance really becomes.

Nevertheless, in this particular incident I do have to agree that the Stinson probably would have made it if mixture had been optimized. Certainly it's service celing even with 4 abd fuel on board easily exceeds the 10K it was experiencing.

Posted by: John Wilson | August 13, 2012 10:50 AM    Report this comment

Not sure if I agree that older pilots trend toward poor judgement that leads to accidents. I'll see if I can develop some data on that.

It could be that there's a lack of proficiency or degradation of skill, but that's not the same as judgement lapses. I don't have enough data to hazard a guess.

But I soon will have.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 13, 2012 10:51 AM    Report this comment

Jim, I did not mean to suggest older pilots take more chances than younger ones.

I have noticed a very small number of truly incompetent pilots who are both old (retired) and who learned at an older age (50+). These are not risk takers. Rather, they are simply ignorant of the issues and also they lack professionalism in their flying. Let me repeat I am not talking about a large number of pilots. It is a very small percentage, but I feel they are heading for an accident and there is little anyone can do about it short of grounding them.

In years past, flying was done by people of all ages with many learning to fly in their teens or early twenties. Today that demographic is shifting to an older crowd. People learning to fly at advanced ages may not learn as quickly or as well as the younger ones.

I know plenty of pilots who fly in their 70's and do just fine. It is the idea of reducing the already very small accident rate that I think is unlikely.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | August 13, 2012 10:53 AM    Report this comment

First: I really appreciate that the pilot and passengers of this Stinson posted the video. It is a very significant tool for learning and converstation. Thank you!

I found some performance info posted online (don't know how good it is, but it looks reasonable) for the Stinson 108-3. A successful takeoff from Bruce Meadows based on that data, for that day and time, looked pretty iffy to me, at best. I looked at Google Earth and some aerials of the strip. It looked like the plane was 100 feet or so beyond the runway end when it started the takeoff roll. A small distance, but maybe critical. After the plane lifted it looked like the AOA never dropped, and it seemed to me it might have moved into the area of reverse command where climb just wasn't gonna happen. The pilot did a superior job (BIG Kudos) of flying the airplane all the way through the crash. His stick and rudder skills were impressive. The conversation you've started on this blog is very helpful Paul. Thanks.

Posted by: John townsley | August 13, 2012 11:05 AM    Report this comment

With respect to older pilots, I can speak only of myself. When I got my PPL at 18 I was pretty much the world's greatest pilot, with the extra advantage of knowing that I would live forever.

Now that I've turned 60 I'm a bit less sure of both of those assertions.

In any case I'm a lot more cautions now than I was when I was younger. YMMV.

Posted by: Jim Howard | August 13, 2012 11:11 AM    Report this comment

Paul B: Take a look at the accident stats from the driver db. It shows a pretty clear trend toward an increased rate as people age. Reasons include slower reaction times, decreased visual acuitity, hearing issues, and slower processing of data. Also, (like it or not) as we age the likelihood of cognitive issues increases. There's published research that shows the accident rate (that's number of accidents adjusted for flight hours) by flight hour class of pilots. While initially higher rates occur with low time pilots, those rates start climbing again for very high time (read that older) pilots. Sad, but true, we are all mortal. Along with mortality comes infirmity. Another interesting factoid (again published) is that persons with diminished ability to drive do not appear to self regulate their participation. I've a neurologist friend who tells me he has patients with early stage Alzheimer's who have recently passed their driving test... go figure! Also, a quick search of the NTSB db shows several pilot incapacitation problems (many cognitive issues) that appear - based on pilot hours - to have a close age based association. More stuff to debate,eh?

Posted by: John townsley | August 13, 2012 11:15 AM    Report this comment

I agree that there's no way to _teach_ judgement. Its something that most of us learn, to one degree or another, from role models and experience. Some just never seem to get the message.

Just to set the record straight, lest readers get the idea that that plane would have "made it" if he'd just done everything right, and try it themselves. I've actually flown one, and several similar craft, from airports with similar DA's. A 103, or 172, or tri-pacer is a 3 place airplane, and maybe not even that, at these DA's. You may make it by the skin of your teeth once or twice, but it'll get you sooner or later.

Posted by: Merl Raisbeck | August 13, 2012 11:26 AM    Report this comment

At issue is not only the reactions of this specific pilot but training. As many have said he probably had little time flying from higher altitude strips. He did what many people do and that is the same routine checklists, mental or physical, he always does. How many checklists have you seen that say on takeoff to have mixture full rich and how many pilots, new or old, would have the presence of mind, while possibly dealing with 3 passengers, to violate a checklist item because the current conditions make it nonsense? Even if he had thought out what he was going to do with a few distractions and the ingrained routine how many of us would have gone full rich for takeoff? How many would have continued take off with the mindset I have to get her up? How many pilots would have considered stopping? I have yet to meet an instructor that routinely teaches aborted takeoffs. I have yet to meet an instructor that asks a student to logically plan,evaluate, and surmise what they will do BEFORE getting in the plane. Granted I haven't met more than a dozen instructors but the focus seems to be use the checklist, get it airborne, then the instruction begins. I guess my point is that we need pilots to THINK and realize that it is okay to modify a checklist or change a plan if conditions warrant. It is a thought process promoted by training that is at fault.

Posted by: Rodney Hall | August 13, 2012 11:46 AM    Report this comment

I've flown into Bruce Meadows in years past in my Cardinal RG--not exactly a great short-field performer. I went with the late Lynn Clarke, who gave detailed instructions on exactly how one gets out of there when performance-challenged. I don't know if generalities about density altitude are going to prevent all the accidents; likely the pilot DID know about leaning for altitude, but forgot. I nearly forgot to add 20 flaps on takeoff at a short field in Hell's Canyon, but my instructor caught it. Bruce Meadows departure if I recall correctly is such that you actually CAN fly out of the place in ground effect, downhill the whole way, but obviously only from one runway. I'm just back from Thomas Creek, 2100 foot strip at 4400 elevation, and there were 206's in and out at 80+ degrees F, though I assume they were taking off empty. I admit to never actually doing a mountain takeoff with four people and baggage in my 182, even light fuel. I've always done the people first, to a longer strip, then come back for the bags (or some combination of souls and bags). Perhaps this pilot didn't have the fuel to do that and thought he'd pull it off . . .

Posted by: David Chuljian | August 13, 2012 11:47 AM    Report this comment

Regarding losing your long and well thought out comment to a site glitch--if this happens to you a lot, I'd suggest writing it in Word or Notepad, then cut-and-pasting to the site.

Posted by: David Chuljian | August 13, 2012 11:48 AM    Report this comment

When I've flown in high density altitude strips. I consciously make a go/no go abort point on the runway. If I'm not in the air by then, time to pull out the throttle. Wait for better conditions and/or lighten the load.

Posted by: Val Vaughn | August 13, 2012 12:10 PM    Report this comment

Many of these accidents occur because pilots do not know what they do not know. pilots should be required to do some experience flights with an instructor after they get their private. to actually experience some of these common situations. If this pilot had flown at that weight at a lower airport with a simulated power level appropriate to that elevation he would know what to look for. This is a common mistake. another common flight condition that pilots should experience personally is flying at night on a clear sky night with no moon over the west or northern Minnesota or over lake Michigan on a very hazy day where there is no horizon reference even though you have no clouds.

Pilots need to actually experience what it is like to fly in a hot and high situation to learn how to deal with it or not do it. talking about it does not work for a lot of people

Posted by: william Lawson | August 13, 2012 12:43 PM    Report this comment

Dear Paul and all commentators, While we may not be able to teach judgement, we as flight instructors, have tools to teach scenarios and give our student pilots alternatives to when outcomes are chancy at best! One commentator mentioned cross- wind and how he never thought about another airport! DA, high density altitude problems are many and also as mentioned, sometimes insidious! Few pilots know what the tach is indicating even on lower elevation, lower temperature take offs with fixed pitch propellers. The rated power for our normally aspirated engines, fixed pitch propellers are given at Sea Level, Standard Pressure, 29.92hg and Standard Temperature, 15C and please note, the propeller speed at Redline! To all my fellow pilots, on your next take off, please observe the the tach! I can guarantee it will give you a moment of pause! Take this tach reading, enter it in your performance graphs or columns and you will see the reduction of power available even on "normal" take offs! Last, we as flight instructors have to demonstrate high density altitude take offs to our students, in other words, reduce the power to a setting which would be appropriate for the density altitude you would like to simulate! Leaning, of course, is part of the plan! Even so, the lack of power is always frightening to the student and should be! Fraternally, Bertil Aagesen

Posted by: Bertil Aagesen | August 13, 2012 12:43 PM    Report this comment

Dylan mentioned the awful feeling from lack of climb rate. I know the feeling. It tends to cause brainlock. We get brainlock when the situation is new. If this pilot had a complete engine failure he may have reacted quickly. But because he had more time to think in this case, oddly the brain can choose to just hope it will climb. Pilots are trained for total engine failure, but in this case of not enough power, most pilots have no plan. I think some study of brainlock would help.

Posted by: Bill Berson | August 13, 2012 12:48 PM    Report this comment

At the beginning of my pilot career I taught flying at the Vail airport. Students were made to go all the way through the cross country training before being allowed to solo. Along the way mountain flying was taught. Leadville was a daily stop. Experienced pilots visiting Vail would come for mountain flight training. Most had to be reminded about how to calculate density altitude and the effect it has on aircraftbperformance. I remember taking a pilot to Leadville in his A36 Bonanza and his surprise at using all the 9000 foot runway to take off. A good lesson in density altitude. Does everyone know the optimum air fuel Mixture is 14.7 grams of air for each gram of fuel? Any more is too rich, any less is too lean. Easy for any pilot to forget if it isn't at the front of their mind when they go flying.

Posted by: Buz Oyster | August 13, 2012 1:05 PM    Report this comment

Bill, You have a great point. I have not experienced a complete engine failure but I have had reduced output on at least two occasions. It really gets your attention, but more slowly than a complete failure.

It turns out that the new LSA tend to have self leaning engines. This is true for those that have Rotax and Jabiru engines. I guess this new technology is a real advantage in cases like this.

One last point for possible discussion - Most of us start out flying other people's airplanes. In some cases this is rentals, in others it is military planes. We don't notice very much that in these environments there is always somebody else reviewing our fly/don't-fly decisions. When we get older and in better financial condition some of us get to own our own plane. This means there is no second opinion for each flight. This Idaho case is just one example where this might be significant in accident prevention. This difference actually comes up with just about every flight. I think people who are owner/operators need better judgement but the sad truth is some have it and some don't.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | August 13, 2012 1:18 PM    Report this comment

I operate from a small airport in WNC, elev 2750 ft. Not very high compared with the western mountain elevations but in the summer our DA can approach 6000 ft. The FBO and local pilots try to remind transients about density altitude. It is amazing how many don't give it any consideration and some act as though they've never heard of it. It is discouraging to spend several minutes explaining the local best practices to a pilot, then watch him take off going uphill on a hot day with a heavy load trying to climb as he is headed into sinking air and rising terrain because that way they get a 3 knot headwind.

Posted by: Richard Montague | August 13, 2012 1:34 PM    Report this comment

Just another preventable accident to me, they'll keep being made as long as humans will fly. The difference is cameras and universal web scrutiny. Did the pilot agree to releasing this video to the entire viewing universe? I know there are some among us who want to expose these errors for all to learn from to get that very small accident percentage down (I think it appears more like fractal geometry than erasure) but I think there is too much rubber-necking of these videos by too many people for me to see this as a positive tool.

I feel this should have been kept private for legal and research purposes and kept away from the public. But with cameras everywhere and so many willing to be YouTube heroes it's our new paradigm, evidently. Goodbye to privacy and maybe even plea barganing. Hello aviation reality TV.

Posted by: Dave Miller | August 13, 2012 1:44 PM    Report this comment

I watched the video and it seemed to me that the mixture wasn't leaned so that would be a big issue, the pilot seemed in my view to lift off early, though another said it seemed to him it was after the end of the runway, but I think it lifted off and flew in ground effect for some time. This is a waste of a lot of energy and to be left on the ground to attain as much energy as possible, ie airspeed, would be a better technique. That's if one was to leave at all. Early morning is better before the temps rise, as others have said. Another point brought out which is good is to land in some of that grass that was in their path for 2 miles before the trees. Some refer to an abort because of the long, slow acceleration and ground run, but that is the way low powered airplanes accelerate and the runway length they use. In this case leaning and leaving the ship on the dirt for as long as there was dirt and then have done all of your acceleration on the ground would have gotten 90 instead of 65, say, and the engine would've been able to retain the cruise airspeed. I fly my parents 108 and was taught by dad as a child in low and very high powered airplanes in low and high elevations. Some do not know the basic "have to's" of high density altitude operation and when working with small percemtages one doesn't want to leave anything on the table.

Posted by: chris mcmillin | August 13, 2012 2:23 PM    Report this comment

"...I think it lifted off and flew in ground effect for some time. This is a waste of a lot of energy and to be left on the ground to attain as much energy as possible, ie airspeed, would be a better technique."

So the soft-field technique we've all been taught is incorrect? The rolling resistance of staying on the ground to accelerate is a lot greater than gaining that speed in ground effect.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | August 13, 2012 2:35 PM    Report this comment

Learning to fly at Charles Prince airport Salisbury Rhodesia altitude 5000 ft with normal temp of low to mid 30C's the instructor went to great lengths to ensure I would not forget to adjust the mixture before run up. Moving to South Africa and flying out of Lanseria with the same altitude and temp range as Charles Prince the previous training stood in good stand. Here in England when I wanted to do the mixture as I was taught the instructor told me there was no need to move the mixture away from full rich. Wow just set the mixture full rich and forget it! Hopefully I'll remember how to adjust the mixture when at high and hot airports.

What happened here I believe is that the pilot forgot to adjust the mixture and the consequences are the lack of power to take-off My tuppence worth.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | August 13, 2012 2:50 PM    Report this comment

"I feel this should have been kept private for legal and research purposes and kept away from the public."

Trying hard to see the logic of that, Dave. Extending it further, we wouldn't write about these things or publish accident reports and then we would never know how to avoid the misfortune of others. Seeing it actually happen sears it into the brain in a way that reading an article or having a CFI blather about it doesn't.

If publishing this video keeps just one or two pilots from repeating the same mistake, it's worth whatever lumps you can bestow upon it for being voyeuristic reality TV. At least something good can come from it, one hopes.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 13, 2012 2:59 PM    Report this comment

"This is a waste of a lot of energy and to be left on the ground to attain as much energy as possible, ie airspeed, would be a better technique."

Not sure I follow. As Gary noted, accelerating in ground effect requires much less power and results in less induced drag that you'd encounter in cruise. Dragging the wheels in the dirt would be even more drag.

What are we missing here?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 13, 2012 3:04 PM    Report this comment

I agree there was value in posting the video. It made me scared just watching it, and as a pilot I will remember it as a REAL possibility, not just a theoretical one. Also, if I were the passenger of the pilot who just crashed me into the trees, I don't know how sympathetic I'd be about "please don't post that video" requests.

I have done little mountain flying, but with 1 passenger and some luggage in a 172 I approached a mountain pass on the way to Durango, I think it was, many years ago. I was under the hood to build IFR time, but my safety pilot tapped me on the shoulder to make me look out the windshield. Seeing those trees and rocks a ways out there prompted us to circle a while and climb. We reacted long before a steep turn at high altitude was needed.

The pilot in this video sure seems to have had a long time to make a gentle turn and go back, even if he didn't elect to abort the takeoff. I like to think that mushy ground effect bounce would have scared me enough to change my plan.

Posted by: Steven Brady | August 13, 2012 3:16 PM    Report this comment

eeing it actually happen sears it into the brain in a way that reading an article or having a CFI blather about it doesn't.>

That's precisely my point, Paul. I'm not supportive of the idea of shock value to the masses for education. That's why we don't put state executions on the web. The harm to those not ready for the shock outweighs the possible redemption of the one.

Our local newscaster reported the video like this: "A small, sixty-year-old-plane - can you believe it was that old and still flying! - crashed in Idaho despite the pilot doing everything he could to soften the landing in the trees..."

That reached thousands locally with misinformation and the potential for unfortunate effects on GA. This video on the web can reach millions who could care less about the learning potential of one but could create discussions and fears that could have very negative effects on GA.

We should always work for perfection, yes, but I find the ubiquitous presense of cameras to be a very slippery slope that could potentially do great harm to our delicate image of aviation with the populace. It's just my view that some are too willing to go sliding down this slope without considering other dangers.

It may be bold but I don't find it weak to accept the small accident rate with human flight as an ongoing component to the freedom it awards us all.

Posted by: Dave Miller | August 13, 2012 4:07 PM    Report this comment

For Gary and Paul, The technique is done thousands of times a day in airliner operations to achieve second segment climb requirements when the airplane is too heavy for the power available (density altitude), or terrain in the airplane's climb path is too high for a "normal" flap setting. A lower flap setting is selected and the airplane's take off speeds are raised and the airplane allowed to accelerate on the runway so the energy available after liftoff is higher and used for a steeper climb gradient. In the low powered ship we allow the airplane to roll on the ground as long as possible accelerating the whole time by using enough lift to allow the wheels to support a fraction of the airplane's weight and the wing to produce as little lift, and drag, as possible so as to accelerate to as high a possible airspeed before running out of runway and finally being required to support the airplane with lift. Much more speed will be attained, and this energy will make up for the lack of excess power that would otherwise be required to accelerate the airplane to higher and higher airspeed while overcoming the drag of the wing supporting the entire weight of the airplane. That's my technique in low powered airplanes and it works well. Sometimes low powered airplanes weigh hundreds of thousands of pounds and though the charts are much better in jets than the 108, the same rules apply because we fly them all on the edge of their performance to get the most utility.

Posted by: chris mcmillin | August 13, 2012 4:16 PM    Report this comment

Assuming to mechanical/structural issues, this is simply pilot error. If you do not know your planes performance in high elevations conditions, stay near sea level.

Get mountain flying training.

The issue of no climb data is silly. The pilot can collect that himself without placing others at risk.

Then to claim that he pilot did great by not stall/spinning, while a small kudo, does not take away that the take-off (and perhaps the flight into that site) should have ever taken place.

This video should be voluntary mandatory viewing by all pilots who do not understand density altitude and how it can nail you.

Posted by: Ron Lee | August 13, 2012 4:42 PM    Report this comment

Chris, Your description has me wondering if indeed the same technique is indicated for a light plane as for an airliner. The big difference I see is wing loading.

The average GA plane has wing loading in the neighborhood of 15 pounds per square foot while the airliner is closer to 100 lb/sf. This might mean the airliner needs a significantly higher angle of attack to lift the plane off the ground when compared to the light plane. That extra angle of attack (perhaps 20 degrees?) could easily translate into extra drag. In the light plane case (and as shown in this video) there is no noticeable rotation to get the plane airborne. I don't know how much the higher rotation for an airliner might increase the induced drag for the airliner, but it seems possible the airliner has maximum induced drag just as it clears the ground.

It seems to me that the standard technique for light planes of getting the plane in the air as quickly as possible for acceleration in ground effect is a good one. This works for both short and soft field takeoffs.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | August 13, 2012 5:31 PM    Report this comment

"Chris, Your description has me wondering if indeed the same technique is indicated for a light plane as for an airliner. The big difference I see is wing loading."

I'm wondering the same thing, but for different reasons. On an improved runway with minimum tire drag, I could see it. But not on turf or dirt, where the wheel drag is a much higher impediment against acceleration than would be gained by holding the airplane on the ground.

Maybe.

So I propose a test. I've got my Cub all instrumented up with an electronic EFIS and a GPS-driven moving map, so I can measure speeds and GPS altitude very accurately.

I'll test both methods, collect some data and report back.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 13, 2012 6:32 PM    Report this comment

Regarding the use of ground effect:

On turf you definitely want the wheels unloaded during roll and then off as soon as flying speed is reached. The drag from even relatively short grass growing on firm ground is quite significant...a fact made quite obvious by the much higher power needed to taxi.

Hard dirt or pavement, maybe not much difference either way. But I'll stick with ground effect acceleration anyway.

P.S. As one of those old washed-up 70-plusers you guys are talking about I probably couldn't stand the stress of unlearning all that stuff anyway :-)

Posted by: John Wilson | August 13, 2012 10:49 PM    Report this comment

I fly where some local runways are turf on heavy clays. In the spring during "mud season", operations either cease or are difficult at best. It often is not possible to gain enough speed to lift off. Or one has to find the one path through the runway mud that will permit a lift off. In low powered, high winged aircraft (e.g. Cessna, Stinson, Aeronca, Taylorcraft, Piper) the use of ground effect, if you can lift off, is limited by ones ability to stay very close to the ground (a foot or less to have any help from ground effect). So, with a low climb rate potential, and you are only able to lift off at the very slowest speed possible (due to the clay mud),the angle of attack will be maximum for sustainable flight in ground effect ... but lowering the nose is necessary for acceleration, which requires great skill to not touch a wheel which will put you right back in the mud ... and any raising of the nose stalls you right back in the mud as well. Back in the mud means abort. So I have been stuck in ground effect less than a foot off the ground with no ability to accelerate to the front side of the power curve. After several hundred feet of being stuck there, it is time to set down and taxi, if possible, back and try to find a better path or seek a tie-down and call it a day. So in this circumstance I think one could say induced drag is the final deal-breaker.

Posted by: Ian Worley | August 14, 2012 7:49 AM    Report this comment

Trying to keep a taildragger rolling on the ground to gain speed once takeoff speed is reached counterproductive at best. Doing it on a rough, bumpy grass strip is foolish. To hold a taildragger on the ground above take-off speed requires forward stick, increasing the drag on the tires as well as increasing induced drag, no to mention the increased drag when it noses over after hitting a clump of grass on a bump. On the other hand, accelerating in ground effect is about as close as it gets to free lunch.

Posted by: Richard Montague | August 14, 2012 9:28 AM    Report this comment

Spent a couple of hours this morning with the Cub collecting flight data. I basically did two experiments. First, I tried takeoffs on both paved and turf using a soft field technique, then allowing the airplane to accelerate in ground effect before pulling into a max effort climb.

Second, I used the hold-down method, allowing the airplane to accumulate additional speed and energy with the wheel on the runway, then rotating sharply to a max effort pitch/airspeed for the best climb.

I used a Dynon D1 and a timer to measure the performance results. In most cases, I used a fixed marker to initiate the max performance climb. I used the end of the runway as the termination point.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 14, 2012 12:26 PM    Report this comment

On the paved runway, using the hold-down method, the time to the fixed marker was 24 seconds and the speed at the marker was 54 knots. That yielded 370 feet at the runway end.

Using the ground-effect method, speed at the marker was 57 knots in 22 seconds for an altitude of 460 feet and the runway end.

On turf, using the hold-down method, time to the fixed point was 23 seconds at a speed of 44 knots for 280 feet in climb by the end of the runway. (It's a much shorter runway.)

Using the ground effect method, time to the fixed point was 22 seconds, speed was 47 knots and altitude gained was 280 feet, same as the hold-down method.

Some general comments: Holding a traildragger down past the point it really wants to fly is not a good technique. It requires forceful nosedown and you can feel the drag on the tail and tires and actually watch it reach a peak speed, then slow down a little.

Better to let the airplane fly when it's ready and pitch into your climb or use ground effect to accelerate further. The ground effect method requires a little care to avoid bouncing the airplane off the runway so I'm not sure how valuable it really is.

One thing I did not test was pitching straight into a climb before I reached my fixed point. If I had, I suspect the end-of-test altitude would have been higher.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 14, 2012 12:35 PM    Report this comment

I repeated these tests a couple of times to assure directionality but one caveat: They're too coarse to prove anything definitively, but I couldn't find evidence that holding the airplane down to accumulate energy on the runway improves performance for a small, underpowered aircraft.

A swept wing jet or higher-powered piston may be en entirely different kettle of fish.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 14, 2012 12:37 PM    Report this comment

Interesting results. I wonder also how weight would affect those results.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | August 14, 2012 12:48 PM    Report this comment

Thank you, Paul.

I actually think a higher powered plane (182?) would do better with ground effect. Unlike the jet, a high powered piston plane can hang on the prop and the extra power makes this work even better.

I know with a lightly loaded 172XP (T41, etc.) you can yank it off the ground before much of any roll (maybe 30 feet?) and still stay airborne for a spectacular climb out.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | August 14, 2012 12:54 PM    Report this comment

All these experiments talk about being able to accelerate on the ground, having to hold the airplane on the ground. What if they are done when you cannot get the airplane going on the ground any more than the slowest speed you can lift off because the runway surface will not allow it? For an aircraft with lots of power, with a good head wind, with a low density altitude, etc. I would expect those airplanes to quickly convert to a positive climb rate. But I'm not so sure the same is the case in calm wind, high density altitude, gross weight, and minimal climb rate/low power. With my students,from a non-impeding runway I set the power to just the minimal setting to lift off, then ask them to fly for several seconds before adding full power. Most cannot keep from either recontacting the runway with a nose down pitch hoping to gain speed, nor keep from stalling back to the ground by climbing a few feet and losing ground effect. In the latter case if I add less than full power for them just before the stall, it takes them some concentrated practice to both add the power and fly back down the few feet in to ground effect to attempt to get on the plus side of the power curve without recontacting the ground. This is a more realist setting, simulating a poor performance situation with an impeding runway surface.

Ian

Posted by: Ian Worley | August 14, 2012 1:40 PM    Report this comment

This gentleman just became a very "experienced" pilot if you go with the definition that "an experienced pilot is one that survives all his stupidity along the way". Density altitude is never to be toyed with especially in an older aircraft with an engine that could be producing only 75% of RATED POWER at sea level on a good day. This is tantamount to driving a car around a 45 mph turn at 70 mph and expecting a favorable outcome. This is not a "poor fellow"...this is a pilot who is not entitled to be called a "pilot"...maybe an airplane driver??? Density Altitude training is included in every single training course devised...this is simply a pilot who wasn't thinking at all....putting four people in a 172 at sea level is a risky operation when considering performance capability...an old 165 hp engine, four people, 5000' MSL...common sense dictates a very iffy proposition in anyone's book. Forget Political Correctness, and Tolerance...this is a non-thinking and careless pilot who was operating in dreamland to expect a favorable outcome to this scenario.

Posted by: Blaine Banks | August 14, 2012 3:12 PM    Report this comment

Well, Paul B. asked about judgment. Most of the posts have been about flying skills and aircraft performance.

As far as I know, the only facts that we seem to know are that this group flew up that morning and enjoyed a nice hike, and planned to fly back. They arrived successfully. They enjoyed their hike.

At this point, I'm going to throw in a possible psychological issue involved in judgment..

I've flown in and out of many hot-and-high airports throughout the west, Idaho, Rockies, Sierras, etc. since the 1960s. I had a cabin at Big Bear Lake (6,650') for ten years where I flew to frequently for week-ends, as did many other pilots.

I casually noticed a curious phenomenon. When we were in the pilot's lounge paying tie-downs and fuel bills on Sunday afternoon, (not an organized group, just that time of day) the subject of density altitude did not seem to come up in our chatter. Expect when ambient temperature was very warm. It seemed to me that when the temperature was comfortable, the subject was not mentioned. When it was a scorcher, someone almost always asked what the density altitude was.

In other words, the trigger for a judgment call was heat and not altitude. When the Stinson guys finished their hike, things were good, we got here safely, let's get back for….

Posted by: Edd Weninger | August 14, 2012 3:20 PM    Report this comment

..Couldn't agree more Edd...the primary factor that comes into play in this scenario would seem to be the very optimistic and hopeful attitude of the pilot. As is said, "what comes down may not necessarily go back up"..referring of course to the approach versus the takeoff. If memory serves, gliders to quite well on the way down...little different story in the other direction. This little Stinson was more akin to the glider than to a powered aircraft.

Posted by: Blaine Banks | August 14, 2012 3:37 PM    Report this comment

Lot of comments dinging the pilot for even attempting the T.O. but it still seems to me that an aircraft rated to carry 730 pounds in addition to full fuel (which I'm sure he didn't have) to 16,500 feet service celing SHOULD have been able to climb out of there.

Something was obviously wrong, most likely gross over-rich engine operation, possibly coupled with getting it "behind the curve" and unable (or unwilling) to attempt trading altitude for aceleration.

Posted by: John Wilson | August 14, 2012 4:30 PM    Report this comment

I had a Stinson 108-2. Three on board, a Stinson fly-in, a warm day at a mountainside airstrip in Pennsylvania (yes, they exist there). Land uphill, takeoff downhill. Lunch in a clubhouse on the top. On departure (in the afternoon heat), I went out and put a paper cup, secured with a rock, at the halfway point, went back and loaded up. Looking down a kind of ski slope, I pulled the first notch of flaps on the J-bar. Click. Ran up the engine, leaned to best RPM, and down we went. I could see the paper cup getting bigger. The Stinson showed no great interest in flight. As the cup whizzed by we hit a bump in the grass strip that tossed us into the air. We were flying! I decided to hang onto it. Bad idea. We settled back down, way beyond the abort point. The end of the runway (orange traffic cones, a road, a forest) was coming up fast. NOW I throttled back, stood on the brakes (as much as you can in a taildragger), scooted through the traffic cones, over the road, and came to a stop with my spinner sniffing the trees. So close we had to get out, push back, and then turn the airplane. I discovered (from another Stinson aowner) that someone in the past had cut his own flap notch, and what I thought was T/O flaps was really something less than. Two clicks, another run down the slope, and we made it with room to spare. The moral of this story: any time you find yourself asking, "Can I do this?" is the moment to stop, reevaluate, offload passengers and go see for yourself.

Posted by: Robin White | August 14, 2012 4:31 PM    Report this comment

Blaine -

You commented that, "...putting four people in a 172 at sea level is a risky operation when considering performance capability."

Am I missing something here?

Posted by: Rush Strong | August 14, 2012 6:36 PM    Report this comment

Good points all, but the bigger issue that we ignore as an industry is one of aging aircraft. Hear me out. As the recipients of a new heart transplant, a brand new O-200 for our 13,000 hour Cessna 150, we can safely say that the performance of an older engine, regardless of it's compression check, makes significantly less power than book numbers would indicate. The truth is you don't have accurate performance data after the aircraft has a few years on it and that's a problem. Think cam wear versus compression check wear. That means it's left up to pilot judgement to make the right call. Obviously this crew didn't. But performance numbers in the GA industry aren't very accurate when new and become significantly less accurate over time. We have to be more conservative as we fly aircraft that are older rather than newer. Otherwise we need to become very familiar with their recent performance otherwise we are just guessing at what the outcome may be. Guessing equals no options and options equals life.

Posted by: H G | August 15, 2012 1:54 AM    Report this comment

Sad end to a nice old airplane. Searching the internet reveals a flight manual for the 108-3, metal prop, suggesting that a TO distance for a 50' obstacle at 6000' is at a minimum 4700'.... Airplane seemed to me to be stalled well before it hit the trees. Also not a word of warning from PIC before impact. I figure the FAA will watch the video too....

Posted by: David Bullen | August 15, 2012 2:42 AM    Report this comment

Nice comments and nice little experiment Paul. I believe that a 737-800 has significantly better obstacle clearance performance when rotation is delayed but as others have said, that may well be apples vs oranges. Many jets are rigged for neutral to negative AoA when on the ground and most never encounter any surface softer than "contaminated" concrete...

Posted by: john hogan | August 15, 2012 7:06 AM    Report this comment

This crash video reminds me off my DC-8 and B-747 time in the middle east when all but the last 1,500' of a 13,000' runway would disappear under the nose before we would reach rotation speed. The difference? An abundance of caution and extensive, detailed, and accurate performance charts. Even at sea level the high temperatures caused surprisingly high density altitudes and, it was often said, when we shoved the throttles up, that the only thing that moved were the gauges. Also, my father flew Stinson L-5s out of very short field in the Pacific with a fairly high power to weight ratio, an advantage the nearly identical wing on the 108 didn't have. I agree getting this out is a great service to the aviation community. Think of it a modern day hanger flying which doesn't happen as much as it once did. How many of us learned about situations we didn't get into because someone talked about their experience?

Posted by: John Snidow | August 15, 2012 8:49 AM    Report this comment

Through YouTube’s association of videos (you’ll probably find it just to the right) I happened to watch the video of the 1984 Tabernash Colorado Bird Dog crash after watching this video. If you start your discussion from the moment that it becomes clear to both pilots that they are going in the trees (eliminating the preceding decisions/factors that got them there)comparing these videos demonstrates that driving it into the trees, rather than stalling it in, is the difference between life and death. Some have commented that this pilot shouldn't get much credit for that, but 4 people are still alive because he did not keep on pitching up. There may be a time when, through bad luck alone, you are descending into trees. Everything I have read, heard, and seen about crashing well says drive it in and look for the softest smallest things to hit as your body can only handle so many Gs. These 2 videos, and their outcomes, are a graphic perspective of what it looks like at the moment that the decision needs to be made to descend into an ugly situation under control.

Posted by: Mark Jensen | August 15, 2012 10:20 AM    Report this comment

I instruct in C140A, C180K and Kodiak 100s; pre flight planning using all available data has always worked well for me. A rule of thumb for the takeoff that is handy is the 70/50 rule. That is, if I don’t have 70% of Vx speed by the time I’ve used 50% of the available runway I abort takeoff; something is wrong either in planning or performance. I like a balanced runway (length available to accelerate to Vr and then decelerate to a stop), but many times in unimproved environments I don’t have that luxury and the 70/50 hasn’t failed me yet. I’m not sure where I picked up the rule, it could have been from Sparky Imeson, but I pass it on to my students in all aircraft weather the airplane has little, moderate, or ridiculously high excess power; any pilots friend!

Posted by: Steve Zaat | August 15, 2012 10:45 AM    Report this comment

So far as I know the airliner reduced flaps is for climb gradient with an engine out and higher speeds on the runway are just the consequence of reduced flaps. Flying in ground effect for soft field is more so you only have a foot to drop while flying on the edge so to speak while accelerating to normal liftoff speed. I don't believe there is a situation where holding it on, or low, beyond that beats standard technique in total distance start to xx agl. Zoom climbs seem impressive from the cockpit but may not so much if measured, don't forget even Pauls cub was covering close to 100 feet of ground every second at his marker.

Posted by: B Noel | August 15, 2012 11:23 AM    Report this comment

About the age issue, the observation was that, for example, with two groups of pilots, both with the same years and hours experience, one group learned to fly at 20, the other group learned to fly at 40, the older group has more accidents. Not that they take more risk or are less skilled, just the outcome. This caught my attention cause I'm in group B. For a cite, try NTSB Safety Study SS-05/01. It has further references.

Posted by: Keith Johnson | August 15, 2012 4:24 PM    Report this comment

Right, one shoe fits all. If you are old you are loosing it. Everyone seems to think that age is the problem. You might get a different prespective on that subject at www.fatfat.us. Try it you might like it.

Posted by: kent tarver | August 15, 2012 9:03 PM    Report this comment

Simple case of "Density Altitude" and weight! Everybody get over it! I remember just this summer after taking off (Denver front range) when the DA was about 7700, then landing when the temps (102F) hit the first record of the summer and the DA was 9700 feet at arunway altitude of 5517. Talk about ground effect due to runway thermals from even hotter temps. Now try taking off with those temps and those density altitudes. It's tough! Stay at the lake on the boat! Talk about

Posted by: Joeseph Gawlikowski: JoesPiper | August 16, 2012 6:09 AM    Report this comment

Oh yea. I'm not buying the age thing, won't work! There are many pilots in their 60's 70's and 80's who fly high altitude VFR. So forget the age thing. One item of note, one thing that could contribute to lack of performance would be low compressions coupled with a high DA. Been there - done it. It's amazing what brand new cylinders can do for you in high DA conditions. WE don't know that data yet, do we?

Posted by: Joeseph Gawlikowski: JoesPiper | August 16, 2012 6:13 AM    Report this comment

It is simple "Denial" to say that age doesn't include slow deterioration of capabilities. This doesn't mean there is an age where it is unsafe to fly an airplane, but I understand it is mostly impossible for anyone over 80 to get insurance.

Each person must consider their health, diet, drug and alcohol intake, and general activities with an open mind. If you don't do this you can expect to get a real surprise one day when you "Suddenly" can't do many of the things you used to do.

Perhaps the most obvious weakness in people as they age is loss of memory - particularly short term memory. In a case where a pilot must make responsible decisions such as go/no-go it is important that the decisions are made well. In this accident there were a bunch of failures that might have been influenced by memory problems. These include failure to lean the mixture and the notion of taking off in a heavily loaded airplane in high density altitude in the hottest part of the day. It just might be that the same pilot would not have made the same decision and/or mistakes 20 years earlier.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | August 16, 2012 6:59 AM    Report this comment

I will let the NTSB and FAA make judgment on this pilot, his age and the condition of the plane, that's not my job. As I watched the video, I found myself saying aloud, abort, abort as the runway end approached. Then as he was low over the rest of the meadow, I was saying land it, land it! I don't do a lot of high density flight but my instincts were telling me to abort then land. I wonder how many times he had done something similar and killed those instincts? I wonder what I do that is dangerous but I have conditioned the risk instinct away?

I also notice that he navigates to an area with less trees to give more room for a climb. He didn't turn or climb above the airport, it was probably out of the question to turn 180 without enough lift. I wonder if he new he was in trouble and just couldn't make the decision to land and hoping for something better to happen?

Thank God they are all alive.

Posted by: Paul Mcclure | August 16, 2012 10:17 AM    Report this comment

We are off track...again...this is not an age issue..same as the Reno incident, it was not age related. That was a "G" scenario that a Blue Angel pilot would not have survived. Had the pilot been of the same age group as the rest of the occupants..would we be talking about how inept the young and inexperienced are???? Gentlemen, this is a density altitude scenario...not in any way age related. It has to do more with personality types I would say and those who carry a healthy respect for density altitude and those that don't. This is a judgement call that was made inappropriately and NOT age related. We sound like lawyers looking for something to discuss and evaluate that is not part of the problem, only a talking point. Density Altitude here is the enemy..not age. As the younger pilots get "up in age", you will develop a different attitude toward age as you will then be a member of that group and will defend that group as well. This is basic human nature, "protect thy group". Far be it from a competent pilot to simply say one day out of the blue....gosh, I'm 65 years old, I shouldn't be flying anymore so I shall hang up my wings for the good of aviation......

Posted by: Blaine Banks | August 16, 2012 10:20 AM    Report this comment

The point to ponder for me is why this guy didn't abort. It was either a bad decision or a lack of a needed decision. I suspect it was more about being complacent with the risk. While many would been screaming to abort, he seemed happy to skip down the runway and mush along toward rising terrain and trees. Rather than defend or persecute him, it should cause us all to think about where complacency could be a factor in our safety, without our knowledge. This is the value of the video for the rest of us.

Posted by: Paul Mcclure | August 16, 2012 11:15 AM    Report this comment

"I suspect it was more about being complacent with the risk."

I think you're right and that's one reason I'm disabused to pass too harsh a judgment here. Full circle to the first question: how to sensitize pilots to be less complacent?

I was going to mention something about the age issue and memory, but I forgot what it was...

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 16, 2012 11:46 AM    Report this comment

@ Mark Jensen ... I also saw the link to that vid and didn't want to watch it but after your post I just did then. Sobering stuff but thanks for suggesting it. I've tried to visualise the situation where, with maybe only seconds to go, you have to realize/accept that you've badly screwed up, put that aside, keep flying and go back to making good decisions. As these videos show, doing that successfully could be the difference between scrubbing off speed progressively via the lighter tree tops vs auguring in.

Posted by: john hogan | August 16, 2012 11:49 AM    Report this comment

@ Mark Jensen ... I also saw the link to that vid and didn't want to watch it but after your post I just did then. Sobering stuff but thanks for suggesting it. I've tried to visualise the situation where, with maybe only seconds to go, you have to realize/accept that you've badly screwed up, put that aside, keep flying and go back to making good decisions. As these videos show, doing that successfully could be the difference between scrubbing off speed progressively via the lighter tree tops vs auguring in.

Posted by: john hogan | August 16, 2012 11:51 AM    Report this comment

I think it was both complacency and temporary denial that led to the crash. Complacency for the effects of density altitude on a fully-loaded, low-powered aircraft, and temporary denial that the takeoff wasn't going well. I also believe it's too easy to dismiss the pilot's job at NOT stalling it in to the trees. It took the guy longer than it should have to find a different "out" other than crashing into the trees, but at least he saved all four of their lives in the end.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | August 16, 2012 12:04 PM    Report this comment

re: short/soft field techniques. In my 182, and the Pawnee I fly regularly, there is noticeable acceleration as the wheels leave the ground. Its especially pronounced on grass. The trick is to remain in ground effect. If you don't, the plane will mush, loosing most of what you've gained by the end of the runway.

Posted by: Merl Raisbeck | August 16, 2012 12:26 PM    Report this comment

If I'm in for a penny, I'm in for a pound, so I'll add I find it very disappointing all this talk about age again. Whether overconfident youth or sliding aging skills I'm not about to advocate any more scrutiny into these areas, these are stages of life and I want all of the freedom squeezed out of every possible opportunity we have that can keep us flying.

Decades of books, study guides, flight instructors and videos had no affect on this pilot concerning risk and density altitude to me. But what stands out and I don't think has been mentioned yet are, Checklists! That would have insured a proper mixture setting for temp/altitude among other things. I always use them and never feel impatient about their utility.

Also, every single accident has its own set of circumstances - maybe 50lbs lighter on a previous flight and he took off fine - and that's reason to always use a checklist and treat these videos with a grain of salt, imo.

Posted by: Dave Miller | August 16, 2012 12:51 PM    Report this comment

Surely age matters. But is young and exuberant much better than old and complacent? Each flight has a group of risks, the pilot and weather being 2 important ones. It's too simplistic to try boil this down to the age of the pilot. I had a "old" pilot friend forget to set the throttle correctly for a hand prop. It cost him and three others their planes. Everyone blamed it on age and forgetfulness. But it really was complacency, the failure to use checklists (and not having a knowledgeable person at the controls). The pilot in this video could easily be replaced with an 18 year old and the outcome would be the same unless he did something different.

Posted by: Paul Mcclure | August 16, 2012 4:27 PM    Report this comment

With older pilots now the majority in GA. (My personal observation, but one which I think will stand scrutiny). They are destined to be over represented in accident statistics... Same deal with aging aircraft. Comparison needs to be made with when they as a group were younger, apples to apples. Bad ideas have no age distinction. But back to the video, in my opinion the "sudden downdraft" is no such thing, it is the airplane stalling. Not a show me a stall and recovery for a flight instructor. But the airplane being slowly dragged through the stall at a high DA. What airspeed do people think he might have had flying up the meadow? Perhaps someone can share some insight into the speeds needed and stall characteristics of a Stinson?

Posted by: David Bullen | August 16, 2012 9:14 PM    Report this comment

Righ on, AMEs are also into that age crap. It's age plus all that sugar that is fed to the brain by blood that is saturated with sugars. When you got a liver the size of a basketball you are addicted to that stuff. I am now 82. 4 years ago a woman AME in Reno tried everything she could to find a way to ground me. She made me get extra tests for things that didn't have anything to do with a disqualifying item. Her name is Pieva or Peiva or someting like that. Stay away from her if you are over 12 years old. I have a good AME that is also a pilot and airplane owner. Even he is somewhat intimidated by my age.

That guy in Idaho just didn't connect all the dots correctly.

Posted by: kent tarver | August 16, 2012 10:02 PM    Report this comment

The effect of DA on aircraft performance has been pretty well flogged here. What about the effect of DA on the pilot? O2 deficiency perhaps? That would certainly affect judgement and performance. Apparently he had been hiking prior to the attempted take-off. Seems likely to me that could have had a considerable effect on the mental and physical responses of the pilot.

Posted by: Richard Montague | August 17, 2012 9:03 AM    Report this comment

I agree, Richard. You posted your comment just as I was logging in to suggest the pilot might have been affected by mild hypoxia,fatigue and dehyration after hiking at this elevation. Symptoms of hypoxia include impaired judgment, delayed reaction time and a sense of well-being. It sounds like those symptoms were present here.

Posted by: Valerie Salven | August 17, 2012 9:51 AM    Report this comment

During WW-II about 25 to 40% of pilot cadets washed out. Flight schools tell us that ANYONE can be a pilot and that is almost right. Maybe there are people that become pilots in todays' flight schools that would have washed out in a military flight school. I was selling a Tri-Pacer many years ago. The prospective buyer told me he had about 40 hours TT, so I gave him the left seat. When I noticed that he couldn't fly the airplane worth a hoot, I asked him about his hours, he told me that they were in an Ercoupe and it was all dual! Clearly there are many reasons why the Stinson pilot screwed up. It could be one or all of the above, except AGE. Age alone is not a problem. There has to be something along with age to cause degredation of the mind. BTW, the guy bought the TriPacer.

Posted by: kent tarver | August 17, 2012 9:11 PM    Report this comment

Reading and studying all the fine commentary above, I have to admit the PRIME contributing factor could very well be the one mentioned in serveral of the last posts: an older pilot under the influence of DA...aggravated by the physical effort keeping up with the younger ones in his party. Probably nothing to mention if there were not pilot-in- commant duties involved. I am 67, been flying since 1971, and I have to admit DA can whoop my ass while skiing these days. The fact that its insidious makes it the perfect foil for the rest of his problematic decision making in this video.

Posted by: Bob Roehrer | August 18, 2012 2:30 PM    Report this comment

And.....I have to side with the 'he did good' when looking at how he could have stalled it in, and had a fatal accident instead of nonfatal. He fought the urge to keep pulling up; a mark of a seasoned pilot if you ask me.

Posted by: Bob Roehrer | August 18, 2012 2:38 PM    Report this comment

The pilot has spoken out and said he was about to abort when he was inadvertantly lifted into the air by a gust of wind. I do agree with his comments in that if you watch closely he in fact, does seem to have a moment in which he has a rate of climb just as he initially takes off but then the aircraft "falters" and is unable to gain any altitude thereafter. This is not to say that he still shouldn't have aborted, however, when faced with the end of the runway behind you, it is not an easy or "normal" decision to put down off airport, especially since he didn't have the 20/20 hindsight of how it was going to go so badly. As is said, be careful about judging until you have walked in the same shoes. This was purely a DA incident and he got caught with his pants down...so to speak. Monday quarterbacking is a wonderful thing. I am still critical however of the overall scenario, 165 HP, four people, 5000' MSL, high temps...the takeoff should not have happened in the first place. The handwriting was all over the wall on this one.

Posted by: Blaine Banks | August 18, 2012 2:57 PM    Report this comment

When I saw this on the news, I said to my wife this seems to be a classic case of a 'density altitude' problen, she knows diddly about these things, but was able to explain it to her,.The news gave no altitude info, but given the type of plane,gravel/dirt field, and the video, showed the mixture FULL rich, Everything was against this flight, poor choices.

Posted by: Leighton Samms | August 18, 2012 6:51 PM    Report this comment

Sorry Bob, DA has no impact on your skiing or your body while skiing. Particularly since skiing generally requires it to be rather chilly.

You're a victim, in that case, of just plain ol' regular altitude.

Posted by: Andy Turnage | August 21, 2012 6:27 AM    Report this comment

Andy, Bob actually gets an assist from DA since colder air is denser (more dense?)so it's more likely he's a victim of just plain old.

Posted by: Richard Montague | August 21, 2012 1:23 PM    Report this comment

Regarding the 'more education needed' comments: as someone pointed out, only the choir listens when it's voluntary. This applies to the proposed new rules on experimentals, to reduce their higher accident rate, and the EAA's insistence that 'all that's needed is more education'.

Posted by: John Lewis | August 22, 2012 2:29 PM    Report this comment

Could also be a case of "wrong tool for the job." The same trip would have been a cakewalk in a Helio Courier.

Posted by: Carter Cammack | August 27, 2012 6:38 PM    Report this comment

Opinion: Even a Helio at gross would have to be very careful; but yes, with that load a Helio would be loafing. M5 Lunar Rocket (Maule) could do it too.

Posted by: Bob Roehrer | August 27, 2012 7:45 PM    Report this comment

We are never going to be able to be able to get stupid people to stop doing stupid things. More safety classes and more regulation are not going to help. I wishwe could all just accept that. (I also wish all the regulations passed that haven't helped move the safety needle would be revoked as being expensive with no benefit, but I guess little chance of that)

Posted by: Scott Powell | August 28, 2012 11:08 PM    Report this comment

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