Wake Turbulence Cited In Charlie Schneider Crash

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MyGoFlight founder Charlie Schneider told first responders his Cirrus SR22 encountered wake turbulence from an Airbus A320 before it crashed in Knoxville, Tennessee, on Dec. 16, according to the NTSB’s preliminary report (search ERA22LA089 here). While he survived the crash, Schneider died a day later in a hospital. A passenger in the airplane was seriously injured and Schneider credited the passenger and bystanders with extending his life, if only briefly. From the prelim:

“According to first responders, they observed the pilot about 30 feet from the airplane on arrival to the accident scene. They reported that the pilot had third-degree burns on his body and was alert, conscious, and responsive to verbal commands. The pilot stated he was returning from a 45-minute flight, and that he encountered wake turbulence on short final. The pilot said that the airplane lost lift, rolled inverted and he activated the ballistic parachute. He said that the airplane “hit the ground and burst into a fireball.” He said that his passenger climbed over him and assisted him out of the airplane, and bystanders utilized fire extinguishers to extinguish the flames.” 

The report says Schneider was shooting practice approaches at Knoxville and was told by ATC to extend his downwind for the A320. After telling the controller he had the airliner in sight, he was told to follow it and that he was cleared for landing. He was about 1.8 miles behind the Airbus and when he was about 1.5 miles from the runway at about 1,000 feet, radar contact was lost.

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29 COMMENTS

  1. Flying a theoretically perfect and software generated glide slope is exactly what you don’t do behind a large jet. If you fly at normal speed with the “jelly inside the donut” on the HUD, then you’re ignoring the real situation that is required for a safe approach and landing.

  2. Position is everything. Separate. Following inside of two miles and/or less than two minutes under no or less than 10 kt wind conditions. Not good!

    I’ve kept in mind two ugly and fatal wake turbulence encounters. A Westwing at KSNA following a 757 and an A300 (AA587) following a JAL 747 out of KJFK.

    • Well, yea. The “demonstration” flight demonstrated that a fantastic safe airplane with great new technology flying a technically perfect approach in good weather means nothing without a thinking PIC that is fully involved.

      This reminds me again why “autonomous” flight in high density areas is not as easy as some vendors have recently promoted.

  3. Difficult if not impossible to do on a high fidelity auto pilot coupled to a flight director, I have hand flown many a glide slope one dot above even in a large corporate jet when following any airliner down the ILS.

      • I am just a simple private pilot and don’t claim to be an expert on wake turbulence. But I was always taught that, when following a big jet to land, you want to remain well above and away from the jet’s flight path and land after the jet’s touchdown point. That may mean you use a slip or other appropriate technique to achieve that. (At KSNA, it’s common for small planes to use a roughly 30º dogleg to final, not aligning with the runway until short final, just to avoid potential wake turbulence. That doesn’t work for a true instrument approach, of course, but that’s not what this was.)

        If you don’t feel that you can do that – stay above and ideally away from the jet’s flight path all the way to touchdown – you’re much better off to go around and try again.

        Windtip vortices float around with the wind (as you know), but in the absence of wind, they descend. If you know the wind conditions you can visualize where the vortices are likely to go. If the conditions are such that you can’t do so, go around and put a few minutes between that landing jet and you.

        What a tragic accident, but it sure seems like an experienced pilot like this guy should have known better. If your autopilot and navigator won’t easily let you adapt to this kind of situation, you ought to have a Plan B that is better than crossing your fingers.

        I’ll bet the controller said “caution wake turbulence.” Maybe we hear that enough that we become a little numb to it and don’t take it seriously enough. This accident is a pretty vivid reminder not to become complacent about wake turbulence avoidance.

        • Nicely summarized. You might add that in calm of low wind conditions vortices from transport aircraft have been known to bounce. Also, 2 minutes behind and 1,000’beneath a passing (in cruise) Boeing 737 can be very hazardous, as the pilot of an RV discovered a few years ago when his aircraft rolled inverted and broke. My very conservative rule of thumb is 4 minutes or ALWAYS above the path of any transport aircraft when flying my Cessna that weighs about 1-2% of their landing weight.

          I strongly believe that the final gift of any pilot who dies in an aircraft accident is a lesson for the living. We owe Charlie Schneider our thanks for reminding us of several important lessons we have all have heard in the past, and that you (David) have repeated for our benefit.

    • Pity the poor guy following you if you’re a dot high in your large corporate jet. Wake turbulence separation only works if all large aircraft stay ON glide path. Wake vortices settle downward according to well established laws of physics. Exception being a direct tailwind, in which case you should consider offsetting your course. My least favorite situation is doing a CAT III approach into a busy airport with direct 5 to 10 knot tailwind.

      • My least favorite situation is doing a CAT III approach into a busy airport with direct 5 to 10 knot tailwind.

        Just curious, why? During Cat 3 operations, your separation behind the preceding aircraft is even greater than it otherwise would be…

  4. This is very sad. A friend and I were flying our planes into MRB. A C17 was in front of us. My buddy was first, he got into the wake turbulence and it rolled him up 90 degrees, scared the **** out of him and he went around. I stayed above the approach path. Got a close to it once and felt the wake. i asked the tower where the C17 landed and landed about halfway down the runway with no issues. Wake turbulence is real.

    • Similar situation flying out of Fayetteville NC. C17 flying west on final approach to Pope. Fayetteville departure warned regarding wake turbulence. Saw the plane go by and waited 5 minutes to resume northerly course. Felt a very small ripple in the air followed by what felt like a hammer hitting the top of the plane. Everything that was not strapped down went flying around the cockpit. My head banged the headliner despite being belted and shoulder strapped. Took a minute to realize what had happened. Found some things stored in the baggage compartment on the floor in front of the pilot seat. Definitely woke me up! Wake turbulence is real

    • MRB was my stomping ground when I was a student pilot (wife currently wearing my pilots license) though that was when the WV 167ANG still flew C130’s. My instructor beat into me wake turbulence avoidance because in addition to the frequent C130 flights airlines used MRB for training and proficiency checks so it wasn’t that unusual to follow a A320 or 737.

      I can only imagine what hitting a C17 wake turbulence would do to just about any GA aircraft. Bet that was a lesson your friend will never forget!

  5. Maybe time to abandon the approach or ask for a box vector. I agree with others that one dot above is not always a guarantee. Good opportunity to stay high and land long or just go missed early. There is no guaranteed recovery from wake turbulence.

  6. Some years ago Nashville. B727 on about a five mile final 2L. Bonanza inbound VFR from the northwest, other side of 2L. Bonanza wanted 2C, which means crossing the 2L final. Controller pointed out the B727. Bonanza saw it. Controller said to maintain visual, caution wake turbulence, cleared to land 2C. Bonanza acknowledged. Bonanza came in tight, behind the B727 flight path and below it. Bonanza rolled over and dove into the ground. Bonanza pilot’s last words, “I think I done bought it.” Wake turbulence is real.

  7. As the ultimate chicken pilot, I have told ATC – “35S is going to fly the missed”. Or on take off – after a heavy landed – I’d just sit there and wait some minutes before saying “ready for takeoff…”.

    • Someone can correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t think they see anything without precipitation or something reflecting the radar in the air. This is just one limiting factor of what the radar provides for wind.

      • Doppler radar can detect wind shear on final. How it works, I don’t know. We had it installed at Nashville (and many other airports) about 25 years ago. The specialized antenna was located about 5 miles from the airport and focused on our final. It actually did give wind shear advisories from time to time which we then issued to the pilots.

        • Yes, I am aware of this. With doppler, if it sees a large variation in wind speed, well, that could be a problem. And I guess if it’s windy enough for wind shear concerns, there might be enough particulates blowing around even without precipitation. Likely not good for seeing wake vortices though.

  8. Wake turbulence is indeed real, and not just from transport sized aircraft. A couple years ago I was flying with three other planes practicing formation flying. I was #3 on final approach with about 1/2 mile separation from the #2 plane – all Cessna 177 sized planes. At about 100 feet above touchdown I encountered the WT from one of the leading planes. It rolled me about 45 degrees to the left before I could correct. I hit full power and went around, but it definitely got my attention. I always get nervous following even a corporate jet sized plane down at my home airport.

  9. This makes more sense now, although scary to say the least. I was flipped 90 degrees by wake turbulence from a KC-10 one nice afternoon around Pease Airforce base. I thought I was playing it safe climbing and staying well clear of the KC-10 but I didn’t realize the wake turbulence could rise with a thermal. Luckily I had some aerobatic training and realized I needed to apply rudder to raise the nose and get aircraft flipped upright.

    In this situation I wonder if the parachute played negative roll by taking concentration away from righting the aircraft to deploying the parachute.

  10. I have no idea if this aircraft was in a recoverable attitude, but i think every pilot should get some upset training. The analysis indicates that the recovery chute was deployed, but it may be the altitude was lower than that recommended by Cirrus for deployment. Pilots should get comfortable with their training in upset recovery so that they don’t panic when their airplane is turned upside down. If the aircraft was at 1000 feet agl, that should be sufficient altitude for a roll recovery; unless the airplane was so overpowered by the vortices that recovery was just not possible. In other words, they were akin to a blowing leaf that took them to the ground. Remember, if you find yourself upside down in an airplane, PUSH to unload the wing, and then roll wings level. Do not attempt a rolling pullout–level the wings, and then pull the nose up towards the
    horizon.