AVweb's Rick Durden had a close call when he didn't abort a bad takeoff, and he has suggestions for how to be a little more embarrassed but a little less dead.
Click here to read Rick Durden's column.
I've always found it amazing when, in midst of the noisy confusion of a crowded room, someone can say something that triggers such a powerful
recollection of an event that suddenly I am isolated from the hubbub, aware only of the intensity of my thoughts. It recently happened to me in the Pilot's Lounge at the virtual airport.
The weather was great. Pilots who had been hibernating all winter simultaneously decided to head for the airport. Once the rental airplane schedule filled up, it seemed like everyone else -- those who
couldn't get on the schedule, those waiting for a turn to fly, or those who had already flown -- headed for the Lounge and the coffee pot. I overheard fragments of a number of conversations without
paying much attention until two pilots started discussing the crash of a Cessna 150 on takeoff. It seems that it was an instructional flight in which an instructor who had little Cessna 150 time had
chosen to make an intersection takeoff and had selected 10 degrees of flaps even though there were obstructions off the end of the runway. Obstacle clearance climbs in the C150 are made with the flaps
up; in the C152 they are made with 10 degrees. It's one of those sometimes critical differences between aircraft types that can bite a pilot who doesn't pay attention. Afterwards, the student said
that the instructor made a comment during the takeoff roll that the rpm wasn't where it should be. The airplane used much of the 3000 feet of runway from the intersection to get into the air, then
snagged power lines located off the end of the runway and crashed. Both occupants survived, but spent some time recovering from their rather severe injuries.
At about that point I stopped hearing anything going on in the room. I was transported back in time about 30 years to a Cessna 150 on a temporary grass runway that had been long closed, but reopened
for use for about two weeks during construction that closed the other two runways on the airport. My student was making a normal takeoff. I was tired and not paying full attention. As we trundled down
the runway, things didn't feel quite right, but I couldn't put my finger on just what was bothering me, so I did nothing but continue to weigh down the right seat of the airplane. It was only after
the airspeed reached about 55 knots and my student raised the nose did I realize that the airplane had used up much more runway than usual.
The 150 stumbled into the air. The airport fence and adjacent highway whistled by distressingly close to our wheels. I could see my student looking puzzled as he kept the nose down, seeking
best-rate-of-climb speed, 70 knots. Ahead, the trees that had always seemed quite a ways from the airport were no longer quite so far away. The ASI read 65 knots when I took the airplane and pitched
it up sharply, hoping to get over those trees. Vx was published as 60 knots. I'd flown early models of the 150 that had a much lower published Vx and had read somewhere that it
had been increased on later models to allow for a successful forced landing if the engine failed below 50 feet. From a lot of slow-flight practice with students, I figured I could let the speed get
down to about 50 KIAS and, if I got us over the trees, we could fly away from the situation, as there was nothing to hit after that.
The 150 cleared the trees. I remember that the speed was 53 KIAS; the airspeed indicator seemed about the size of a pie plate and I was searingly aware of every caustic, downward movement of that
indicator needle. Once over the trees, I was able to slowly lower the nose and get to 60 KIAS without losing any altitude. Eventually we climbed to pattern altitude, got our heart rates down to the
low triple digits, returned for a landing and taxied back to the office, where we complained about the airplane. I do not recall the cause, but the engine was not developing full power. I was lucky.
My student was not particularly large. I was a poor law student and had no fat on me, so even with full fuel, we were below gross weight. Had we been over gross, we would have hit the trees. Bush
pilots know from hard experience that weight matters on takeoff: A 10-percent increase in weight increases obstacle takeoff distance 21 percent.
Nightmare Becomes Reality
I suspect that every pilot who has flown more than 40 hours has had a nightmare that involves an airplane that is barely in the air, unwilling to perform and facing a horribly inhospitable landscape.
Any attempt to raise the nose just results in loss of airspeed without increasing the distance between one's soft posterior and the numerous obstacles. Trying to turn doesn't help; more sharp, pointy
things swim into view while the airplane sags toward the ground as the lift component is deflected from the vertical when the wings are banked.
It's even worse when you're wide awake and it's happening for real in a loaded airplane that has been reluctant to leave the runway and is not showing any particular interest in climbing over the
trees ahead. How did you get there and what can you do about it?
A lot of pilots have asked that compound question just before discovering that the answer to the second half is "nothing" as they hit obstructions after takeoff. The answer to the first half is more
complex and worth considering even if the number of takeoff accidents is well below that of crashes on landing. The problem is that hitting something after takeoff tends to be pretty grizzly and, as
there is usually a lot of fuel on the airplane, the risk of post-crash fire is very high and the probability of survival low. When the accidents are reconstructed, the striking thing is that, had all
things been working normally and the pilot used all of the available runway, the airplane should have cleared the obstruction. So, what's going on?
Let's take a look at the real world. The majority of airplanes we fly are designed for a lot of flexibility in flight planning: The pilot can fill the tanks and go a long ways with people in some of
the seats, or the pilot can fill the seats and -- with reduced fuel -- make shorter hops. OK, that sounds great, but let's really face facts: Pilots routinely fill the seats with less-than-svelte
passengers and fill up the tanks, launching well over gross weight. And, yes, by definition, the pilot is flying an airplane for which there is no published performance data and is thus a test pilot.
And, yes, it is illegal. But it has become a habit for one heck of a lot of pilots. Pilots get away with some degree of over-gross operation because, usually, everything else is in their favor and the
airplanes were pretty liberally designed to allow for stupid pilot tricks.
How Bad Can It Be?
In the real world, our habits have a tendency to kill us when other variables enter the equation. Because we are sloppy about respecting limitations of our airplanes, we cut well into the designed-in
margins (we have absolutely no way of knowing how far) and we don't recognize when the velvet we've been relying on is finally exhausted. We've been flying a couple hundred pounds over gross in the
Saratoga HP pretty steadily because, with full fuel, it can only carry two big people and their luggage. Yet we've been putting the spouse and the two kids in and getting away with it. But the kids
are getting bigger and one kid really, really wants to bring a friend on this trip. We rationalize: If a couple hundred pounds over gross is OK, what's another 150 pounds? Except that this trip is to
that lake resort where the runway is 3000 feet long while home base has 5000 feet. And the resort is at an elevation of 2500 feet. And it's the 4th of July weekend and, because our Sunday-morning
departure for home got delayed so the kids could swim one more time, it's now Sunday afternoon and 95 degrees F. Density altitude is way up there and one of the brakes is dragging just a little, just
enough so it takes 1200 rpm to taxi instead of 1000. And, oh,yeah, fuel is cheap here at the resort, so we filled up.
We go charging down the runway, vaguely aware that things are not happening as quickly as they usually do. We can see the far end of the runway, but the foreshortening effect of distance makes it
nearly impossible to accurately estimate how much is left until well into the takeoff roll. We make a quick glance: Manifold pressure, rpm and fuel flow are where they should be. The midfield taxiway
intersection goes by and we're looking at less than 40 knots on the airspeed indicator. The idea of aborting the takeoff flashes to mind but the sound of the engine going from high power to idle will
get the attention of everyone on the airport, so we'll be admitting to everyone that we screwed up ... plus we're not sure we can stop on the remaining runway and it rained hard last night, so it's
going to be muddy off the end and getting stuck will really be embarrassing ... and maybe we won't get pulled out of the muck in time to leave today and we've got to be at work tomorrow and the spouse
is going to raise the roof over how much it costs to fly if we can't even use the airplane to get home on time and ... man this one is going to be tight and ... gawd there's the end of
the runway, there's no room to stop, we gotta go, we pull on another notch of flaps because we think that obstacle-clearance climb requires two notches but we haven't looked that up recently ... and
we're off the ground right near the end of the runway and find the override switch so we can get the gear up right now ... and is best angle 85 or 95? ... and those trees are right here, right
now and we're gonna hit and it's gonna hurt ...
Hitting trees flying at 85 knots hurts. A lot. It hurts a lot more than hitting them while rolling at 20 knots after having the good sense to abort a takeoff that isn't going well. The forces we face
in an impact are a squared function: When we double the speed of the impact, we don't double the force of the impact, we quadruple it. That's a nasty, hard, unbending rule of physics.
We will probably be embarrassed if we hit the trees at 20 knots after an abort. We probably won't be embarrassed if we hit those trees 3/4 of the way to the top flying at 85 knots. Or at least, not
for very long ... we have to be alive to be embarrassed.
Better Dead Than Embarrassed
A buddy of mine who was in the Blue Angels once jokingly told me that when performing in an airshow he'd rather be dead than embarrassed. While he was being facetious, I know one heck of a lot of
pilots who are such perfectionists that any mistake at all is perceived by them to be abject failure on their part and in their subconscious, I'm convinced, they believe that it is better to be dead
than embarrassed. I think it also explains more than a few crashes.
The airlines and military have long recognized that most pilots are successful, goal-driven, reasonably obsessive perfectionists who view mistakes as hideous things. As a result, they teach pilots
that aborting a takeoff is not a mistake. They teach that, on every takeoff, there are things that must happen for the takeoff to continue. If those things don't happen, there is something wrong with
the airplane and it is the pilot's job to save the day by aborting, even if it means going off the end of a runway, because the chances of survival go way up as the speed of impact goes down.
I think the mindset of being spring-loaded to abort a takeoff if certain parameters are not met and that the hero-pilot is there to keep the airplane from killing everyone by aborting is a way to keep
on living. It's a little like NASA's approach to launching a rocket: The default answer to the question of whether to launch is "No"; it is up to the hardware, software and humans to demonstrate that
everything is working properly so that the question may be answered with a "Yes." For an airplane takeoff, the default should be "abort" unless the airplane demonstrates that it is healthy enough to
Let's look at the things that can cause an airplane to crash on takeoff and see if there are any warning signs for the pilot so we can come up with parameters to be met before we let a takeoff
Gross Weight. We've talked about it above. It's a choice made by the pilot. When a 10-percent increase in weight increases the distance over an obstacle by 21 percent, it's worth a pilot's
undivided attention and respect.
Intersection Takeoffs. Do we really want to make one? Is it that important to save taxi time? In reading takeoff accident reports, it's interesting how often the pilot initiated the takeoff
from an intersection. Is it an indication of other shortcuts the pilot is willing to take that cut into the margins on clearing that obstacle?
Predicted Performance. Does the manual say the airplane will clear an obstacle in the available distance? If not, attempting to take off is stupid and may be criminal. Over some years of
involvement in aviation lawsuits regarding takeoff performance, I've found that a properly maintained airplane will usually meet book takeoff performance, but it truly has to be properly maintained.
The engine has to be developing full rated power; the prop has to be in good shape, the tires properly inflated and the brakes not dragging. I've also observed that airplanes picked at random for
inspection usually have something that prevents them from matching book performance ... anything from a heavily filed prop or the wrong prop to an engine not making power to low tires. So, I agree
with the aviation writers and textbooks that recommend a pilot allow a margin above the book performance numbers for deciding on whether to make a takeoff.
Power Output. There is a way to get a pretty good indication whether the engine and propeller combination are developing appropriate power. It's called a static runup. We taxi to a spot where
the prop won't pick up all sorts of trash and the propwash won't cause damage, then hold the brakes, pull the yoke or stick all the way aft and go to full power. On a fixed-pitch prop airplane the
resulting rpm must be in the range published by the manufacturer in the manual. For example, for a Cessna 152, the acceptable rpm range is 2280 to 2380; for a Cessna 172N it is 2280 to 2400. If the
rpm we see on the tach during a static, full-power runup doesn't fall within the acceptable range, it's an automatic abort, as we have no guarantee that the engine is making power (or that something
else is wrong if the rpm is above the acceptable range). Assuming the tach is accurate, if the rpm is too low, the engine is not making power or has the wrong prop or improperly pitched prop. If rpm
is too high, the prop may have been filed beyond limits, the tips may have been cut down too far, it may have the wrong pitch or be the wrong prop. All of those are reasons that the airplane will not
perform per book on takeoff. For a constant-speed prop airplane, it is not as simple: the rpm should be at redline but manifold pressure will depend on the density altitude, which means we have to do
some homework to determine the max. manifold pressure attainable before doing a check.
Dragging Brake(s)/Low Tires. Keep track of how much power it takes to taxi at your normal speed on flat, dry pavement in light winds. For most airplanes, it will run on the order of 1,000 rpm.
If the power needed goes up by about 200 rpm, find out why before making a takeoff (abort the takeoff before it begins because a parameter has not been met).
Proper Acceleration On Takeoff. Here's the big one. There is a good rule of thumb that works as a parameter on continuing a takeoff: The airplane will break ground in the available runway
length if, by the half-way point of the runway, it has reached 71-percent of the published speed at which the nose is to be raised on takeoff. If the manual says to raise the nose at 60 KIAS, then we
better be looking at a speed of at least 42 KIAS at midfield. If not, it's an automatic abort because a parameter has not been met. This go/no-go parameter does not guarantee obstacle clearance; it
just gives information regarding getting off the ground in the available runway.
Controls. They are rare, but extremely ugly takeoff accidents ... the ones due to locked or jammed controls or badly mis-set trim. While those should have been caught during the pretakeoff
check, pilots still miss them and try to fly with the control-lock engaged, a jammed elevator control or the trim rolled all the way forward. The parameter is that when we go to raise the nose on
takeoff, if the control wheel does not physically move aft when normal or slightly more than normal pressure is applied and the nose does not start coming up, a parameter has not been met, so abort
the takeoff. This one will probably involve running off the end of the runway, but it is almost invariably better than trying to continue at high power.
Braking. For a takeoff abort, close the throttle instantly and make sure it is completely at idle, hold the control yoke/stick slightly aft of neutral and apply heavy braking to the point of
sliding the tires. If you ever get a chance to ride with a test pilot on a max.-brake-effort stop, it's an eye opener. Get on the brakes as hard as you can. If you slide the tires, back off a bit, but
only a bit. Raise the flaps to put more weight on the wheels. Don't worry about calling the tower, you're busy. If you are going off the end of the runway and have the time, pull the mixture to lean
cutoff, cut the master, turn the fuel selector off and pop the cabin door(s) open slightly. Keep trying to make the airplane go in the direction you want and keep trying to stop the airplane until it
does come to a complete stop. Don't give up trying to make the airplane do what you want it to do.
If we take the above and boil it down into an abbreviated mental checklist of parameters that must be met or we save the day by aborting the takeoff, we get something along the following lines:
- Are the trim tabs, flaps and fuel selector(s) properly positioned? If no, abort. If yes, continue.
- At full throttle, is the rpm is in the acceptable static range on a fixed-pitch prop airplane? With a constant-speed prop, are the manifold pressure, rpm and fuel flow where they should be for
the elevation and temperature? For a turbocharged engine, are manifold pressure, rpm and fuel flow at redline? If not, abort. If yes, continue.
- Airspeed indicator off the peg and moving without jerking within 5 to 10 seconds of going to full power? If no, abort. If yes, continue.
- At the mid-field point on the runway, has the airplane reached at least 71 percent of the published speed for raising the nose? If no, abort. If yes, continue.
- At the published speed for raising the nose for takeoff, can the yoke/stick be moved aft and does the nose begins to come up? If no, abort. If yes, continue.
It's up to the airplane to demonstrate to us, as pilot in command, that it is capable of performing on takeoff. It's up to us to assure that it is doing what it's supposed to do and, if not, to abort
the takeoff and live to fly another time. Aborting a takeoff isn't a failure on the part of the pilot; it's a pilot showing the right stuff by recognizing the wrong stuff and taking action to keep
See you next month.
New technologies have brought us very capable "glass panels," and they're popping up everywhere. But has training progressed at the same rate?
Click here for the full story.
Things have progressed quite a bit since Garmin International first released its certificated version of the G1000 in the Cessna C182T Skylane. Garmin
was certainly not the first to come up with a glass-cockpit display for general aviation -- Avidyne's Entegra/Flightmax EX5000 holds that distinction -- but Garmin incorporated an internal GPS sensor
rather than relying on a conventional, panel-mount GPS.
Since it was announced in August 2004, the G1000 has migrated to four different aircraft manufacturers. Meanwhile, Avidyne was Cirrus Design's choice for many years -- even New Piper offers it for
many of their models. While current and future owners have an excellent selection of primary flight displays (PFDs) and very large multi-function displays (MFDs) from which to choose, getting an
airplane with the equipment installed is only half the battle. Pilots still need to get from them the information they paid for.
Looks Great; How's It Work?
Very quickly, these and other PFDs have substituted just about every round, analog instrument in your old panel and converted them to digital values on moving tapes. But that's not all.
For example, both the Entegra and the G1000 are built around a 10-inch diagonal display, the top half of which displays heading, attitude, airspeed (calibrated and true), altitude and vertical-speed
information. While even an inexperienced pilot should have no real trouble understanding and assimilating this data, it will take a few hours of flying to fully understand and comprehend its
organization and presentation. And that's the stuff we already know about.
One thing radically different for most pilots will be the trend vector. This is a variable line providing a six-second prediction of the aircraft's position based on airspeed (G1000), altitude,
heading, etc. When the trend vector is as small as possible, the aircraft is in stable flight. But understanding the trend vector and what it can mean for, say, energy management may not be readily
understood by most pilots.
For those fortunate (unfortunate?) enough to fly airplanes with PFDs from different manufacturers, it gets even more interesting. For example, the Avidyne Entegra allows the pilot to set the S-Tec 55x
autopilot/flight director's vertical-speed bug and current barometer, and to pre-select an altitude. On the Garmin G1000 paired with the Honeywell KAP 140 in a typical light plane installation, you
can only change the heading bug. All other functions must be changed on the KAP. Of course, these details will differ from one aircraft model to another, from one manufacturer to another and, as other
equipment is installed and removed, over time.
The training perspective is where things become more radical than even the displays themselves. For the G1000 (used by Cessna, Diamond Aircraft, Mooney and New Piper), Garmin's collection of PFD pilot
guides, MFD pilot guides, supplements, cockpit reference-guides, addenda, system overviews, quick-reference cards and other paperwork adds up to 16 volumes of documents, totaling 662 pages. Oh, and
that does not include the pilot guide for the KAP 140 flight computer. That's a lot of documentation to learn; the good news is the G1000 and other similar systems place a great many individual tools
all in one box.
On the Avidyne Entegra side (used by Cirrus Design, Lancair and New Piper), the numbers are similar: Manuals for the Entegra PFD and EX5000 MFD total 112 pages in two volumes, to which must be added
204 pages covering the paired Garmin GNS430s in typical installations and 70 pages for the S-Tec 55x.
The Education Investment
Now that we've identified what portion of the Library of Congress is going to be used for your avionics transition course, where does it get done and how much does it cost? As with so many questions,
the answers depend on whether you purchased the aircraft or just want to rent it.
If you went to your friendly local Cessna store and bought a 2005 Cessna 182T Skylane with the G1000 package, you would get three days of factory training when picking up your $330,000 magic carpet,
up from 1.5 days in August 2004. During those three days, you'll be presented with many Powerpoint images, use G1000-simulator software on a PC, get about eight hours of flight time, and then be given
a heading to your home airport. As one pilot put it, the criteria used for assessing progress through the course seems to be handling of the aircraft -- are all the parts still attached after each
landing? -- and the ability to perform some light instrument work.
Many G1000-equipped 182T owners have leased back their aircraft for rental use at Cessna Pilot Centers. How much training you get depends on what you feel is necessary versus what the rental facility
is willing to provide. There is no Cessna-designed course for the Cessna Pilot Centers (CPC) to follow. Until recently, Cessna did not even have a program to get CPC instructors qualified in the
Research for this article had me calling all over Florida, California and New England asking about a C182T/G1000 transition course. One Palm Beach, Fla., facility said there was a five-hour checkout
for pilots who did not have complex time. If I had the 25 hours of complex time, there would be no training requirement. I asked about training material on the G1000 and was told there is none
A facility in South Florida renting a G1000-equipped Diamond DA40-180 requires a five-hour training program for insurance reasons. However, no training material is available on-site; the renter has to
buy the cockpit reference guide (one of the 16 volumes on the G1000) mail-order. After two hours of instruction, one renter felt that he knew more about the G1000 than the instructor.
Air Orlando, a Cessna and Diamond Aircraft training facility, was a breath of fresh air. They admitted the three-day program on the G1000 was not enough but they did have their own training material
to use. Max Trescott of San Jose Flight Center also had an extensive G1000 training program for owners as well as non-owners.
Cirrus Design has had a different idea, probably because they have been getting more SR20s/SR22s out the door than Cessna. Their program is also multi-day in duration but involves cross-country
flights, where decision-making and use of the Avidyne/Garmin software is required. Your safe handling of the aircraft is, of course, still paramount; but with Cirrus, safe decision-making also has to
be shown. Cirrus' program is mandatory for coverage by most, if not all, insurers and is available at the company's Duluth, Minn., facility and conducted by University of North Dakota instructors.
Alternatively, Cirrus-approved instructors can come to your location, at about $700/day, plus expenses.
Comments from owners and non-owners who have attended the SR20/SR22 transition course indicate it gets a pilot comfortable enough to be willing to learn more. In technically advanced aircraft,
moderate proficiency is where the pilot can get to the page or function within two seconds half the time, rather than 30 minutes of futility.
Self-Reflection In The Glass
As always, deciding whether one is proficient or merely safe for a given operation is the decision that each pilot -- owner or non-owner -- is going to have to make for his or her self. Can you handle
the aircraft so that its insured value is the same after each landing? Can you spend the time required to read and understand the pilot guides' many pages so that you have an idea of what the software
can do and how it can be done? Did you download (or buy) all the training volumes? Are you depending on any in-cockpit materials?
Trust me -- the pilot guides in the aircraft are always the least-read, and there is no opportunity to read them when one is supposed to be flying the plane. Are you willing to spend several days
flying VFR on training trips so that you can actually learn how to get results, rather than descend into a purgatory of button mashing?
Once one completes the factory-sponsored initial training, where and from whom can an owner or renter obtain proficiency training? The first suggestion would be not to go to the nearest FBO and look
for someone sitting on the couch. It's more than likely that, if you have 10 hours in a glass-panel cockpit, you have 10 hours more than he or she does. Quite simply, it's impossible to learn software
and teach it to someone else at the same time.
Because Cessna has gotten out the door only a very few instructors qualified with the G1000 -- and Diamond has done a better job but has yet to publish training material -- your best bet is to seek
out instructors with experience in your particular system. In the three to five days it will take, you'll see what the software can do, how to make sure that your autopilot does not argue with your
PFD, and you'll learn how to make the equipment display the information that you want/need to see rather than the factory settings.
And that's what it's all about.
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