Jet pilots don't have the luxury of looking outside as much as piston pilots do during takeoff; but there are ways to do better.
Click here to read.
much greater -- somewhere around 10 degrees due to the higher wing-loading, high-lift devices, and swept wings. If we were to place the aircraft in this attitude too soon, the drag would increase
greatly, and in some of the older jets, the high drag will even prevent further acceleration. Since no air is being blown over the wings, there is no additional lift available. Lift can only come from
airspeed and angle of attack in the jet. For these and other reasons, you will notice that jet aircraft accelerate in the level attitude (minimum drag), then rotate sharply to fly, lifting off as they
pass through about 10-degrees pitch, on the way to 15- to 25-degrees pitch. Certification rules require the airspeed to stabilize in the climb at V2 with an engine out, or about
V2+10 with all engines. Very early in the jet age, it was obvious that conditions were so variable, and acceleration so hard to judge, that a new speed was invented called Vr or
rotation speed. The theory here is that if a pilot starts the nose up at Vr, and rotates the aircraft at roughly two degrees per second ("rotation" refers to change about the lateral axis),
then the aircraft will stabilize at V2 (engine out) or V2+10 (all engines). There is usually 10 to 20 knots difference between Vr and V2.
Jet takeoffs are based on three critical speeds. V1 is the "go or no-go" speed, and must be some above minimum control speed with an engine out. Vr must provide the proper timing
to go from level to the attitude at V2 or V2+10, and V2 must provide the certification performance. Each speed can and does affect the others, so rather complex
charts (or computers) are used to figure all this out in advance of every takeoff, and most of the time there are many options.
With small, light jets (Citation, Lear, Eclipse), the range of weights is rather small, and these speeds don't change much. Many will just use "canned" speeds for most conditions. With the 747,
V1 can range from about 115 (very light) to 160 knots when heavy. Guessing here will not suffice!
Key here is the fact that the takeoff roll and rotation is absolutely mechanical and there is no "feel" or airmanship involved. The crew sets the thrust and watches the fun. Once the airplane becomes
airborne, then pilots revert to feel and airmanship to regulate airspeed, attitude, and pitch rate.
How critical is all this? In a Citation, operating off a 10,000-foot runway, it's not critical at all, and pilots could probably just wing it. In a loaded 747, liftoff occurs with the aircraft eating
up runway at a rate of 300 feet every second, and runway length is usually critical, so it's very important to be on the numbers.
V1 is not as critical, in my opinion, as most pilots seem to think. Don't get me wrong: A high-speed abort right at V1 on a critical runway is a terrifying thing, but
continuing the takeoff from well below V1 is almost a non-event, with plenty of real margin. For this reason, the concept of a "soft V1" has finally come into common use and
pilots are slowly coming around to using lower V1 speeds, when available. My personal preference is to use the lowest permissible V1 on all takeoffs, and treat it as a soft
V1. The briefing is, "Up to 80 knots, we'll abort
for almost anything, from 80 knots to V1 we'll abort only for an item that makes the aircraft unflyable, like uncommanded reverse, engine failure, spoiler extension, etc. Approaching
V1, I will take my hand off the thrust levers, and that is the signal that we'll take any problem into the air."
A lot of people in a lot of airplanes have been killed by high-speed aborts, but (with one exception I know of) none have been killed by high-speed "gos." (The exception is AA191, a DC-10 taking off
from Chicago O'Hare, May 25, 1979. That one is a case study all by itself.)
We must get away from the old and common attitude, "I'd rather slide off the end of the runway than take an engine failure/fire into the air." Bad thinking!
What on earth has all this performance junk to do with eyeballs? Hang on, there is a point here!
In the jets, someone in the cockpit has to pay pretty careful attention to the airspeed indicators on the takeoff roll and, frankly, both pilots are well-advised to do so. The PFN (Pilot Not Flying)
usually monitors and calls out key speeds, often "Airspeed alive," "60 knots," "80 knots, crosschecked," "V1," "Vr" (usually called as "Rotation"), "V2," and
If both airspeed indicators don't come alive at about the same time, or if they don't both hit the benchmarks together, it's time to abort before the speed is so high that the runway length becomes
critical. There are usually other things that should happen on the takeoff roll, too. So, where are the eyes? In my case, when I'm the PF (Pilot Flying), my attention is inside somewhat and outside a
lot, with fairly quick changes, and the runway is always in my peripheral vision when I'm inside (back to the old T-6 in my
previous column). At high speeds, a very small deviation in heading will produce a runway excursion -- not normally a good thing -- and I'm watching for other aircraft taxiing onto "my" runway.
It's very hard to put numbers on this, but perhaps 80% outside, 20% inside. Heck, it might even be 50/50. The timing as to when we look inside and back out is important, too. If I know I'm past 80,
but well before V1, my attention is mostly outside, because by then we've validated the airspeed indications, and there's not much going on inside. As we approach V1, I'll focus on the
airspeed, and only peripherally on the runway. When I'm PNF, I'm paying just a bit more attention inside but still keeping an eye on the runway peripherally, to make sure the other pilot doesn't
wander too much. That 80/20 is probably reversed for the PNF. It all happens very quickly, of course.
So, for the takeoff roll in the Bonanza, it's balls to the wall, a quick check of ballpark fuel flow and engine-monitor readings very early in the roll, and basically ignore the panel thereafter,
until a few hundred feet in the air. With the jet, there's a lot more to look at inside, even if there are two people. Maybe even because there are two!
The moment the nose starts up, the PF must focus pretty closely on the flight instruments, because the nose will quickly hide the view of the ground and there is nothing to give a sense of attitude.
Pitch too little and the airspeed will run
away, perhaps exceeding flap-speed limits, and climb performance will suffer. Pitch too much, and you may lose airspeed, endangering the aircraft. Control of the attitude is fairly critical here, and
most jets have flight directors to help with this. The PNF will be monitoring all this, to see that everything is going right, so he'll be mostly looking inside, too. The result is that for the first
500- to 1,000-feet of climb, the typical jet operation is highly vulnerable to "other traffic," be it birds of the feathered kind or birds of the mechanical kind. Van Nuys tower is probably the best
in the country, and they are very, very good at handling the mix of light aircraft using Runway 16L, and heavier stuff using 16R. The first few times they cleared me for takeoff with a light aircraft
right there, I was a bit nervous, but they handle it so that by the time we'd hit the other aircraft, we're above it. But the thought of a student pilot making an early right turn into us still gives
me the willies. Now transfer this operation to a busy, non-towered airport and things get really hairy.
Van Nuys Runway 16R is also a critical noise-abatement runway, which increases the pilot workload immensely if done "The Gulfstream Way," so I won't use it. We rotate briskly to 20 degrees nose up,
well above the flight director, and hold that way for just a few seconds. The altitude limit (1,700 MSL) is only 900 feet above the airport, so this one is very easy to blow, and there is that
Southwest 737 just 1,000 feet above on the ILS to Burbank. At about 1,100 feet (300 feet above the runway), I lower the nose to the flight director pitch command bars, and this will produce a nice
lowering of the nose to catch 1700 feet, while automatically reducing the thrust to hold 160 knots (manual speed). At that point we sail across the far end of the runway and the noise monitors in
level flight, very low thrust, on a very precise track. That keeps the neighbors less unhappy (although they'll never be happy).
Len Krugler, too. Who's Len Krugler? He's the noise boss at Van Nuys, and works very hard to keep it as quiet as possible. Good guy. First letter I ever got from him was something like, "Your takeoff
the other morning was within limits, but from watching a lot of G-IVs take off, I know it can be done better." I spent the next two years getting the data from every takeoff and experimenting with
different techniques. I'm pretty quiet, now. Well, my airplane is pretty quiet; my chief pilot thinks I make way too much noise.
As we taxi into position on 16R, the VOR station is right there at the threshold, so DME is an accurate measure of how far into the takeoff we are. The far end of 16R is about 1.2 DME, and at only 2.2
DME, the procedure is to simultaneously turn left to 110 degrees, climb to 4,000 feet, and switch frequencies to SoCal Departure on 124.7. The PNF has to pull the gear, set that heading, set the
altitude, and push the "Flight Level Change" button to give the PF all the proper indications, and change frequencies and talk, too.
All this happens very, very quickly, and is rather carefully choreographed and briefed. It must be flown with precision, which means
watching the instruments. There's just not much time left to look outside. I wish it were not so.
I really like hand-flying, and used to do that any time below about 10,000 feet. I've gotten away from that now, and generally turn on the autopilot very early so that it does the precision work while
I can divide my attention between making sure it's doing what I intend and traffic watch. This also relieves the PNF of a lot of work, so he can better watch and do his things. Maybe Airbus has this
automation thing right, after all. I'm just not quite there yet.
The Departure and Arrival Procedures
There are more pressures to use the automation. Take a look at these "new" RNAV arrivals and departures.
These procedures require very high accuracy (in three dimensions), usually demanding full-up dual FMS systems, backed up by full-time GPS or DME-DME updating. Some operators now require them to be
flown on autopilot, and some of the DPs require flipping the autopilot on as low as 500 feet AGL after takeoff. I'm coming to agree with that, as much as I prefer hand-flying.
Does this use of automation free up the old Mark One eyeballs? Maybe. But pilots still need to monitor what's going on, and watching all this magic work is seductive. Even when things are going well,
the eyes keep coming back to it -- inside.
The saving grace here is that most of this stuff takes place in positive-control airspace of one kind or another, so "eyes out," airmanship and hand-flying skills have become less important than they
used to be. So they say.
Old Instruments vs. New
There are other factors that draw our eyeballs inside too much. With the big, old, individual, mechanical altimeter, I could have my eyes looking outside and see motion on that instrument peripherally
without even looking at it, and make a correction. Same for the airspeed and especially for the vertical speed. Now, with the vertical tape and/or digital displays, I have to deliberately look
-- and look hard -- at the display and think about what it's trying to tell me. Kind-of like the difference between an old analog watch and a digital. A glance at the hands tells the
story, but no one glances at the digits; they must read them. Some of the modern, glass displays have gone back to showing a video presentation of the old style, and I think that's a good thing. It is
amazingly difficult to hand-fly a simple traffic pattern in the G-IV. For one thing, since we rarely do it, we don't get the practice, so we're not very good at it. Most end up just setting up the
flight director to command heading and altitude, and guess where the eyes go in that situation? Inside, of course.
We do get to take off and land at a few uncontrolled airports, and that is both a joy and a dread. The joy is that we can just fly like the light piston pilots do (eyes much more outside). The dread
is that it's entirely up to us to look out for the others.
I promise, I'll try to get my eyes outside more.
Be careful, up there!
More from AVweb's Pelican is available here.
Although the weather was below minimums, a Part 135 Caravan pilot tries the approach, breaking more than just the regulations.
Click here for the full story.
accident occurred, Birmingham was reporting a few clouds at 100 feet with six miles visibility in mist. Until that report the skies at Birmingham had been clear.
The same could not be said for Bessemer, however, where a dense patch of fog had settled over the airport, reducing the visibility to a quarter mile, sometimes less.
Before departure the pilot probably decided that he had a good alternate at Birmingham should the weather at Bessemer be below minimums upon arrival. Or perhaps he wasn't even thinking in those terms,
based on the KBHM forecast and its proximity to KEKY.
The flight proceeded normally from Little Rock, cruising along uneventfully at 9,000 feet. At 1:22 a.m. the flight was transferred from a Memphis Center controller to the control tower at Birmingham.
After some initial communications, the Caravan pilot asked the tower controller for vectors to the ILS at Bessemer. The controller responded, "Tell you what, Fast Check 600, I've got all this up in
the tower cab now, and this scope is so small it's hard to vector to Bessemer with the lines they've got on it. Maintain 3,000 till Brookwood, cleared ILS Runway Five Approach to Bessemer."
The pilot acknowledged the instructions and at 1:37 a.m. he told the controller that he was intercepting the localizer. The controller cleared the airplane to leave the frequency with instructions
that he was to report his cancellation on the ground at Bessemer via the clearance delivery frequency. The pilot acknowledged that transmission and was not heard from again.
Missed Gone Awry
The airplane crashed 0.37 nm from the end of the runway nearly on the centerline. Investigators found that it was in a 24 degree left bank when it impacted trees about 30 feet above ground level. The
descent angle from the trees to the ground was calculated to be 22 degrees.
There was no fire and rescuers noted a strong smell of Jet A at the site, indicating that there was fuel on the airplane. The pilot and his pilot-rated passenger, a fellow company pilot, were killed
on impact. Investigators spent much time and effort looking at the airplane and its systems, yet they could find nothing that indicated there was a failure that could have caused or contributed to the
A courier who was waiting for the airplane to arrive at the airport heard what he described as a tapping sound on the outside speaker that was tuned to the airport's CTAF. What he probably heard was
the pilot turning the runway lights on or attempting to be certain that they were on and as bright as possible.
The courier, who worked for a regional bank, reported that at the time he was waiting for the airplane to arrive, the fog was the thickest he had seen it since he began coming to the airport a year
earlier. He told investigators that he heard an engine sound and about two minutes later a noise that he associated with a heavy gauge shotgun. He said it was a sharp noise, followed by silence.
Another company pilot was on a flight from St. Petersburg, Fla., to KBHM, landing there about two minutes before the accident occurred. He told investigators that since he was scheduled to continue on
to Bessemer, he checked the AWOS at KEKY when
he was about 65 miles from Birmingham and again when he was about 30 miles out. The first time the visibility was less than 1/4 mile with a 100-foot indefinite ceiling. The second time it was 1/4
mile with a 100-foot indefinite ceiling. He said he flew a visual approach to Birmingham's Runway 36, and while he was inbound he observed widespread dense fog and noted he could not see the rotating
beacon at Bessemer.
The Caravan pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with airplane single and multi-engine land and instrument ratings. He was 62 years old and had 5,773 total flying hours with 390 hours in the 90
days prior to the accident, 990 hours in the Caravan and an unknown amount of instrument time. He had been employed flying Cessna 206 and 210 aircraft since October 2000 and he had checked out in the
Caravan in February 2001.
A review of the approach plate in use at the time of the accident reveals that the inbound heading on the ILS Runway 5 Approach was 050 degrees. An inbound pilot would maintain 2,400 feet until
intercepting the glide slope just outside the MEATA Intersection, 6.1 miles from the Bessemer DME. DH for the approach was 900 feet, which was 200 feet above the touchdown zone and 1.1 miles from the
Bessemer DME. The visibility requirement for the approach was 3/4 mile.
Radar data indicated that between 1:38:47 and 1:42:11 the airplane was flying on a northeasterly heading and descended from 2,400 feet MSL to 900 feet MSL. At 1:42:11 the airplane was located 0.43 nm
from the approach end of Runway 5. The last radar hit on the airplane showed it at 1,000 feet, 0.2 nm from the approach end of the runway. It's not known how accurate the radar positioning is that low
to the ground.
We don't know what happened in the cockpit of the Caravan that night that led to the accident, but there are several facts we do know. First, contrary to the FARs that governed the flight, the pilot
elected to fly the approach when he should have known the visibility was below landing minimums. Of course, that doesn't mean the airplane should have crashed just because the pilot elected to fly the
In fact, the evidence indicates that the accident may have happened as the result of his attempt to make a missed approach that resulted in the pilot's failure to maintain control of the aircraft. The
radar plot shows the aircraft at minimums about where he should have been had he flown the glide slope properly. Then, the radar indicates the airplane started to climb. The post-crash analysis of the
aircraft also shows that the flap actuator was found in a position that suggests the flaps were nearly fully retracted.
The missed approach procedure requires a pilot to climb straight ahead to 1,400 feet, then to commence a climbing right turn to 3,000 feet while flying direct to the Brookwood (OKW) VOR. Assuming the
pilot began the climb, something must have happened to cause the loss of control. What could it be?
Once the decision to go around has been made there is no reason to look out the window any further to see if the runway comes into view. But many pilots do that anyway. Perhaps
they figure that if they see the runway as they pass over it, that it might be worth another approach. But the missed approach requires that you reconfigure the airplane for a climb and concentrate
on the instrumentation to insure that it climbs safely away from the earth's hard surface. If you are looking out the window at that point instead of at the instrument panel, it is very easy to become
disoriented, even for a seasoned pilot.
Fog creates illusions, especially during nighttime, that hammer away at our senses and leave us disoriented. That may be what happened to the Caravan pilot. Or, he might have seen the runway as he
began the missed approach and simply looked outside the airplane too long. Whatever happened, the airplane descended into the ground when it should have been safely climbing above it.
Know The Limits
How do you prevent a similar kind of accident? There is no point in beginning an approach when you are reasonably certain you have no chance of making it in. If you find that your destination airport
is below minimums, go to your original alternate or find another close-in airport that has landing minimums or better.
If you fly under Part 91, you can begin an approach even if the airport is below minimums. But unless there is some reason to believe that it will be successful, you might as well save time and fuel
and head for the alternate. In this instance, you can see that at Birmingham the airplanes were landing using visual approaches while at Bessemer even the ILS approach was not sufficient to allow the
pilot to locate the runway.
Each pilot should have personal limitations that dictate the conditions under which he or she may begin an approach. Certainly, they should dictate that -- if the reported weather is below the
minimums for the approach to be used -- the airplane should be flown on to an alternate.
Some will suggest that there is nothing wrong by trying an approach under those circumstances to see if the runway environment might be visible. However, there are too many things that can go wrong
during any flight, such as an electrical or avionics failure, landing gear that won't extend properly, or an engine failure, to name a few. You are familiar with all of the potential problems that we
train for. Why take a chance on encountering something like that when you know that there is virtually no way you will be able to make a safe landing? Should your engine fail under those conditions,
you will be totally at the mercy of the terrain below, because you likely will not see the ground before the airplane strikes it.
Some pilots who fly under Part 135 ignore the rule that says they must have official weather and know that the airport is at or above minimums before they begin an approach. It seems that they feel
this is one rule that the FAA looks the other way on. As long as nothing happens, that is.
More accident analyses are available in AVweb's Probable Cause Index. And for monthly articles about IFR flying including accident reports like this
one, subscribe to AVweb's sister publication, IFR Refresher.
Flight instruction is pretty safe, but how can any pilot-caused accidents and incidents happen when two hyper-aware pilots are in the front seats? AVweb's Thomas P. Turner has done the research and
developed a few theories.
Click here to read.
is bad. With adverse weather all but eliminated from the record, then, what might be the reason so many instructional mishaps take place? I think it's related to two human factors: what I call
"instructor-induced stupidity" and flight-instructor complacency.
I must credit a student of mine with coining the phrase "instructor-induced stupidity", or IIS, to describe the tendency of a flight student to defer decision-making or responding to aircraft
indications when there's an instructor on board. From the student's standpoint it's easy to think, "My instructor will take care of me," or that the CFI has somehow manipulated aircraft indications or
maneuvered the student into a decision-making position (such as the need for a go-around) as part of the instructional process.
As my student noted, it's easy for the student in such cases to mentally sit back to see what might happen next. The potential is even more pronounced if the CFI has a lot more experience than the
student (an airline captain, for instance) or if the instructor is considered an "expert" in the type. After all, the CFI is usually logging time as pilot-in-command regardless of the student's
In fact, the student must be aware that he has definite responsibilities for the safe outcome of the flight, just as does the CFI. No one is perfect, so abdicating responsibility to the person in the
right seat can't always be the right thing to do. The CFI absolutely must be vigilant to the safety of the instructional mission -- more on that shortly. But the pilot receiving instruction should act
as if he is alone in the cockpit and respond to situations and indications just in case the instructor is distracted at exactly the wrong moment.
It Works Both Ways
another side to the "instructional hazards" coin -- instructor complacency. Consider this typical CFI duty day:
Get to the airport at 7:30 a.m. Brief and fly one hour of touch-and-goes in a fixed-gear single with a pre-solo student. Fly with a second student, working on her instrument rating, for
a two-hour mission. Perform stalls, ground reference maneuvers and pattern work with two pre-solo students, and then an hour of takeoffs and landings with a student checking out in a retractable-gear
airplane. Break for a couple hours and come back to the airport for another instrument dual session. Cap it off with half an hour of night takeoffs and landings with a student preparing for her
private checkride. Get up the next day and do it all over again.
Or this instructional mission:
Fly maneuvers, instrument procedures, takeoff and landings and simulated emergencies for five hours in a single day with the owner of a light twin who you've flown with before and who
has demonstrated great skill in flying the airplane he's owned for several years.
It's easy after the third or fourth student of the day, or the fifth or sixth trip round the traffic pattern, or with a student you've flown with several times, to become complacent. Trust me, I've
been there. It's a nasty wake-up call for a CFI for the student to do something unexpected, or to find yourself thinking something besides what you're doing at the moment. Also, just because the
student has a lot of time in the airplane, has professional credentials (in and outside aviation) or a strong personality does not mean that the instructor can be any less vigilant.
A measure of a good instructor is the ability to remain focused on the task under way, as
well as see-and-avoid and other aspects of being the flight's designated safety officer. The instructor that detects herself daydreaming or missing radio calls and checklist steps should immediately
terminate the instructional flight unless she can return her concentration and discipline to the moment. I've learned that focusing on standard operating procedures and remembering I'm ultimately
responsible for the safe outcome of the flight is the best defense against instructor complacency.
Case Study: Cory Lidle
Might instructor-induced lapse of judgment and instructor complacency have played a part in the New York City crash that killed Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor, Tyler Stanger?
Although the flight was not "instructional" in the true sense, Stanger was Lidle's CFI and Lidle had told reporters a few days before the crash he was "planning to get up in the air with Stanger
[that] week to work on instrument training exercises." So there was a definite student/instructor dynamic in the cockpit of Lidle's Cirrus.
As of this writing (June 2007) the NTSB's final report is not yet posted on-line (although the preliminary
report is available), but significant post-crash analysis in the aviation and non-aviation media (like AVwebFlash) support that the Cirrus may have been unable to complete a 180˚ turn to avoid Class B airspace at the
north end of New York's East River, after flying up near the river's centerline and then turning left with a significant wind from the right. Without placing blame on either party, it's possible to
envision a scenario where Lidle chose to fly up the center of the river and Stanger did not correct him, or that Stanger chose the ground track and Lidle acquiesced given his relationship with the
CFI. In either event, my opinion is the student/instructor relationship,
left uncorrected, may have played a part in the decisions that ultimate led to their impact with a high-rise Manhattan building.
Overcoming Instructional Hazards
As a CFI, I include the following briefing items on my checklist to review with students before we start up:
- You will be acting as pilot-in-command of the flight (assuming the student is qualified and current).
- Fly as if you are alone in the airplane. Don't depend on me to tell you what to do.
- If you see anything abnormal, or feel the need to go around, miss an instrument approach or accomplish an emergency procedure, go ahead and do so -- you won't be wrong. We may later discuss the
indications and options you faced, but always act in the direction of safety.
- Tell me anything you think should be brought to my attention. This improves safety and also helps me gauge how well I'm getting across the point of the lesson.
I also consider the following for myself as an instructor:
- I am ultimately responsible for the safe outcome of the flight, regardless of the student's experience, his professional credentials or the force of his personality.
- Safety is my first responsibility, with instructional goals important but a second priority.
- My student may point out indications, traffic or other things that I'm not aware of. If that happens, I need to concentrate more on the safety aspect of my job.
- Diligent adherence to checklists and standard operating procedures will help prevent instructor complacency.
- If I find myself going off-task in the airplane, it's time to terminate the lesson.
Fly safe, and have fun!
Thomas P. Turner's Leading Edge columns are collected here.
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