AVweb AVFlash - Volume 20, Number 3a

July 21, 2013

Korean Pilots Protest NTSB Handling Of Asiana Investigation

Photo: Ben Wang

The unions representing the pilots aboard Asiana Airlines Flight 214 say the NTSB's handling of the accident investigation could skew the results and affect the finding of cause. The Asiana Pilots Association and the Airline Pilots Association of Korea say they're concerned the outcome won't accurately reflect the myriad factors that are associated with aviation accidents because the NTSB's public posture has given more weight to the possibility of pilot error. "[We] have conveyed our concerns about the possibility of inaccurately identifying the cause of the accident, due to NTSB's press conferences which only give prominence to the possibility of a pilot error and unprecedented speed in disclosure of related materials to the public," the unions said in a statement. The NTSB released information gleaned from the cockpit voice and flight data recorders the day after the Asiana Boeing 777 crashed on landing at San Francisco International Airport on July 6. Meanwhile the inevitable legal tangle got more complex with the coroner's finding that one of the 16-year-old girls who died was alive when she was hit by a fire truck.

Ye Meng Yuan died from injuries consistent with being run over by a vehicle, San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucralt told a news conference Friday. Another girl, 16-year-old Wang Linjia, also died in the crash and 15-year-old Liu Yipeng died at a hospital July 12. San Francisco†Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said Ye may have been hit by two fire trucks and said the girl was lying on the runway when she was struck. Her body was found covered in firefighting foam. The families of all three girls have hired lawyers. The three were among a group of 34 students traveling to the U.S. to attend summer classes in California.

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ATSB: 737 Lands With 1,179 Lbs. Fuel Remaining

photo: Darren Seiler, Herald Sun

After a missed approach, the fuel condition of a Virgin-operated Boeing 737-800 with 91 aboard forced an emergency landing at a fog-shrouded alternate airport in Australia on June 18 that left the jet with 15 minutes of fuel remaining when it stopped, the ATSB said. According to the ATSB's preliminary incident report, released Wednesday, the Virgin flight had planned to arrive at Adelaide with 5500 pounds of fuel onboard but weather there diverted it to Mildura. On first approach at the alternate, the first officer reported forward visibility to be "virtually non-existent" due to dense fog. According to the report, "They were required to land from the next approach regardless of conditions."

At 600 feet on the second approach, the first officer made the brace announcement and as he looked mostly out of the side window for reference, the captain "flew the aircraft into the ground." Once down, the pilots could not determine the runway remaining but safely stopped the airplane. According to the ATSB, the flight's total fuel after shutdown was 1179 pounds. The fuel condition was affected by several factors, including a decision to allow another jet to land ahead of the Virgin flight. A Qantas 737 with more than 145 aboard also diverted to Mildura. Radio communications led the crew of the Virgin jet to believe the Qantas aircraft had less fuel and the Virgin crew yielded. The Qantas jet landed with 4,629 pounds aboard, the ATSB said.

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FAA Sends Letter To Pilots Re: Medications

The FAA is sending a letter and fact sheet to all U.S. pilots to make them aware of the potentially negative effects that certain types of common over-the-counter and prescription drugs could have on the safety of flight. Specifically, the FAA notes the "sedative effects" caused by "many medications" and the ability of some medications to cause cognitive impairment. It also emphasizes the "subtle degradation of the ability to competently evaluate actual IMPAIRMENT [sic]" caused by some medications. According to the FAA, medications that are prohibited by the agency are found to be a factor in roughly 12 percent of fatal GA accidents. Along with those warnings, the FAA also offers guidance.

The letter lists four ways that pilots can reduce the risk of being impaired by medication. It asks pilots to educate themselves by reading documentation and asking their doctor about medications they are using, specifically with regard to their impact on the performance of complex tasks like flying. The FAA warns pilots not to fly until at least five maximal dosing intervals have passed. That translates to waiting 30 hours to fly after taking a medication that can be administered every four to six hours. The agency asks pilots to apply the illness, medication, stress, alcohol, fatigue, emotion checklist (IM SAFE) and step back from flying activities if the checklist suggests you may be distracted or impaired in your assessment or decision-making due to use of any medication. Finally it reminds pilots that expert guidance is available from designated FAA Medical Examiners. Find the full text of the letter online here (PDF).

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Low And No Visibility Tech

BAE Systems recently demonstrated a system that provides helicopter pilots with situational awareness of their immediate surroundings while flying in zero visibility conditions. The company seeks to improve statistics that show more combat helicopters have been lost in Afghanistan to low visibility conditions than to enemy fire. The Brownout Landing Aid System Technology (BLAST) mixes pulsed light lidar and radar data to detect objects, measure their distance from the aircraft and present visual information to pilots about obstacles (even moving ones) in their surroundings. The system weighs less than 50 pounds.

According to BAE, the system works in snow, fog, sand, rain and smoke conditions, identifying obstacles like poles, wires and terrain. Important to military operations, the system's radar and other passive components offer a low probability of intercept. BAE argues that the system can save money and lives and improve operational capability. Information can be delivered to the pilot via a multi-function display, a helmet display and (at least in theory) even products like Google Glass. It uses millimeter wave long wave IR and synthetic vision technologies. BAE says the system has been flown and proven and is ready for service.

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New Powerful Cub LSA Coming

The Zlin Cub-S will be on display at Oshkosh AirVenture later this month offering its "best in category power-to-weight ratio" and entering the U.S. LSA market with first deliveries scheduled for November. The Cub-S is powered by a 180-hp Titan Stroker IO-340 engine that delivers a power-to-weight ratio of 7.33 lbs/hp at maximum takeoff weight. The power translates into an 81-foot takeoff roll, fully loaded. SportAirUSA is the acting distributor of the aircraft, which come equipped for bush flying.†

Cruise for the aircraft falls roughly in line with most LSAs -- 112 mph at 75-percent power dragging 31-inch Alaskan Bushwheels. The Cub-S also offers a 505-pound payload. It's being marketed as a fun, safe, easy-to-fly, robust airplane that also "performs brilliantly in difficult, remote operations," according to Bill Canino of SportAirUSA. The Titan Stroker 340 engine is an ASTM certified product available through ECI.aero. The company's cylinders are well-reviewed by AVweb's sister publication Aviation Consumer magazine. The Cub-S airframe was designed with feedback and experience from extreme bush flying activities, but the ergonomics and control system follow closely with that of the PA18 Super Cub. SportAirUSA says they'll be selling the aircraft for a starting price below $125,000.

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Happy End: A Book About Plane Wrecks

Photo: Dietmar Eckell

Happy End might seem like an odd name for a pictorial book about plane wrecks but not just any wreck made the grade for German photographer Dietmar Eckell. The 96-page volume features a moody selection of photos of 15 wrecks, ranging from light twins to heavy piston transports, in remote locations from Papua New Guinea to Alaska, but they all have one thing in common: All of the mishaps were the result of forced landings and the occupants were rescued. "Aviation miracles are rare and the planes remaining out there are very remote -- but the challenge was motivation and it was like a pilgrimage to get to these 'wonders' on four continents," Eckell said. †Eckell used crowdsourcing to fund publication of the book and has already made a substantial profit on its publication.

Based on his description of the effort that went into gathering the images, the money appears to have been well-earned. "To keep the cost low and the experience real no production companies or professional guides are involved," he said. "It's a one-man show and I only rely on the help of locals." Eckell produced various versions of the book, from the regular hardcover coffee-table style tome to museum-quality prints that cost hundreds of dollars.

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29th Annual West Coast Cub Fly-In

photo: Frank Bowlin

Nearly 100 Piper Cubs flew in to the annual West Coast Cub Fly-In at Lompoc Airport July 12-14. †Over 100 planes registered, with the majority of them being Cubs. There were also a few poseurs with the odd assortment of Taylorcraft, Champs and eclectic homebuilts, including a modern Van's RV in Cub colors, right down to the bear cub emblem on the tail.

This Cub Fly-In is patterned after fly-ins of decades past, in that it's a very low-key weekend centered around the sheer joy of flying. The planes in attendance represented the broad range of aircraft called "Cub," from various J- and PA- models all the way through to modern Legend and Cub Crafters aircraft. The rarest in attendance this year were three J-5s, but J-2s and J-4s have regularly attended in previous years.

The pace of the weekend befit that of a Cub, with arrivals officially starting on Thursday and the organized events starting with dinner. Arrivals continued on Friday and the day ended with dinner. Saturday featured the flour-bomb drop and the spot landing contest. The final official flight event of the weekend was the group flight over to the coast to circumnavigate Point Conception lighthouse in formation. Saturday was capped off with the awards dinner in the evening, following an old-time Hollywood theme.

Events like this are the grass roots of general aviation and continue to keep the spark alive in a time when new pilot starts and aircraft production are at new lows.

Photo Gallery: 29th Annual West Coast Cub Fly-In

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Levil Technology's New AW ADAHRS

Levil Technology is out with a new portable ADS-B unit that included air data input, making it the industry's first portable ADAHRS unit. †It sell for $1,395. †AVweb's Paul Bertorelli recently flew it in his Cub.

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Short Final

An AA jet landed in ORD in the early morning before the beginning of a typical busy day. †Expecting the usual complex taxi instructions, they instead had the following exchange:

American 123:
"Morning, O'Hare Ground. American 123 clearing 32 left for K8."

O'Hare Ground Control:
"American 327, O'Hare Ground. Good morning. Taxi to the gate."

[Long pause.]

American 123:
"Do you care how we get there?"

O'Hare Ground Control:
"Just stay off the grass, and don't cross any runways."

T. J. A.
via e-mail

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Running Out of Gas: It Takes Focus

While it might be true that fear is just fear, the kind that comes in knowing youíre running out of gas has a particular texture that seems uniquely capable of turning your brain to mush. I know this because like many pilots, Iíve had the experience of nearly running an engine on air. I could dance around it and say this ďhappenedĒ to me, but thatís a level of denial I just canít stomach. Like nearly everyone who runs out of gas or nearly does, I did it to myself.

I thought of this last week when reading about that Virgin-operated 737 that landed on a fogbound runway in Australia with just 15 minutes of fuel remaining. Ignoring the legalities and the reasons why that happened, I can tell you this: it takes no small degree of focus and deliberation to make things come out alright or at least survive it. The 737 crew had to land with near-zero visibility in an airplane and on a runway not equipped for that. Nothing quite centers the mind like having no choice.

It my case, I landed with about the same amount of time in the tanksóaround 15 minutes. I had taken our Mooney 231 up to central Georgia to cover Mauleís then-new diesel project. That 231 was relatively new to me and we were still wringing out the instrumentation, including a fuel totalizer. For the return trip, the totalizer indicated I could fly the leg with a little over an hour in reserve. Other than a forecast for scattered thunderstorm, the weather was good VFR and I got done late, so I just launched for Venice. I had a tailwind for part of it, a slight headwind for the rest.

Mooneys of that vintage are equipped with low-fuel warning lights which come on when the tank has about three gallons remaining. My habit was to run one tank about 10 minutes into the light then switch to the other tank. I like to have at least a dribble of gas in the empty tank in case the other tank wonít feed. About 40 miles out, the left light came on and 10 minutes later, I switched to the right tank and no sooner was my hand off the valve than the right light came on. What the hell? The totalizer said there should be almost 10 gallons in that tank. I thought to blame a fault in the low-fuel sensor, knowing full well the fault was probably between my ears.

By then, I was passing Sarasota, which was buried in a line of thunderstorms that ruled it out as a bolt hole. I was diverting over the gulf to get around them, adding yet more miles between me and homebase which was, fortunately, clear of weather. I throttled the engine back, leaned it as far as I could and pressed on. With the gauges on E and the bingo lights on, to say I was distracted during approach and landing is to abuse the meaning of the word. Mooneys have an Olympic-class ability to crow hop if landed too flat and too fast. I'm pretty sure I did both. But there was no way I was going around. It took most of the runway, but I got the airplane settled down and stopped. I wasnít exactly so much scared as feeling galactically stupid. This is where the focus and discipline comes in: the more important it is to get something right with only once chance to do it, the harder you try and the less likely you'll succeed.†

The harsh truth emerged at the fuel pit. As near as I could tell, the airplane had about 3.5 gallons remaining. What I discovered was in fueling this particular K model, full was not full. When the fuel was at the bottom of the filler neck, shaking the wings and letting the fuel settle would make room for another three-plus gallons per side. That accounted for about seven missing gallons the totalizer said I should have had. Iíd never run this airplane to its range limits and although Iíd flown plenty of 231s, I just never noticed this peculiarity, if indeed any had it. When I have a totalizer available, I like to run a tank dry and refill it to see what it actually holds, compared to what the instrument says the airplane is burning. But I just hadnít gotten around to that in this Mooney.

If I would have run it out of gas, it would have absolutely been fatal. I have multiple interlocking agreements with several friends that stipulate that if I ever run an airplane out of gas, they are to shoot me. Fortunately, the contracts didnít have to be executed and Iím trying real hard to make sure they never are.

Join the conversation. †Read others' comments and add your own.