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Investigators probing a fatal Piper Seneca crash in East Hartford, Connecticut, Tuesday afternoon suspect it was a suicide act by the student pilot who was killed. News outlets reported the twin aircraft came from a flight school at Hartford’s Brainard airport and was on approach to the field when it smashed into a utility pole about 3:30 p.m. on a busy street and ignited a fire, knocking out power to the area. Connecticut news media reported Wednesday that Arian Prevalla, the owner of American Flight Academy, was instructing in the aircraft and survived the crash. The Hartford Courant reported that Prevalla attempted to take the controls when the student, Feras M. Freitekh, 28, began flying erratically.

Freitekh was emotionally distraught from his poor progress at the flight school, the Courant reported. "Unfortunately, this looks, at this point, like an individual who wanted to end his life and used this event to do it," an official told the newspaper. Because the crash occurred near Pratt & Whitney’s headquarters and engine plant, local officials had immediately notified the FBI along with the FAA and NTSB. The FBI is searching Freitekh's Chicago-suburb apartment and personal belongings and investigators found nothing suspicious, The Courant reported.

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Boeing said this week it’s behind schedule on development of its manned spacecraft, which could give competitor SpaceX the edge on being the first U.S. company to launch people into orbit since the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle several years ago. Boeing has now postponed a first unmanned flight of the CST-100 Starliner for the second time this year, with a launch now slated for 2018 instead of 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported. Boeing is developing the Starliner under a $4.2 billion NASA contract, while SpaceX is working on its Dragon spacecraft under a $2.6 billion contract.

Engineering issues for the Starliner lie in the emergency launch-pad abort tests. Still, a Boeing official said the company is on “a very aggressive schedule” and “pedaling as quickly as we can” while ensuring that the spacecraft will be safe to fly, the Journal reported. When the contracts were announced in 2014, the abort tests were originally slated to take place this year. The capsule-shaped Starliner, designed to carry up to seven people into orbit and dock at the International Space Station, would be equipped with parachutes and airbags to allow for landings on the ground, making it reusable up to 10 times. NASA is requiring that the manned vehicles are capable of launching aboard their own rockets and docking with the ISS for multiple missions.

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The new organizers of the Flying Aviation Expo, led by Scheyden Precision Eyewear President Jeff Herold, hope to build on past successes and build the show into the premier GA event for the West Coast. This year’s show is scheduled for Oct. 20-22 at Palm Springs International Airport. Herold, who also is president of the show’s new owner, Aviation Expo LLC, told AVweb this week he never expected to be taking over the event. But as a longtime pilot and aircraft owner who also enjoyed being a business exhibitor at the show, he saw the potential for the event and has added new features while taking advantage of the popular Palm Springs destination.

This year’s event offers three days of exhibits, seminars and nightly entertainment through late Saturday, allowing pilots to fly in and stay for the weekend. “We have created some wonderful event packages to accommodate the pilots and aviation enthusiasts alike who want to enjoy one, two or all three days at the show. We expect many to make it a long weekend and enjoy all of the attractions that Palm Springs has to offer,” Herold said. The Expo also will feature well-known aviation speakers including Rod Machado and John King, who will engage in a live debate on the Airman Certification Standards on Oct. 22 at the airport. Display highlights include an array of aircraft makers along with the HondaJet and Cessna Citation M2. 

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The new organizers of the Flying Aviation Expo, led by Scheyden Precision Eyewear President Jeff Herold, hope to build on past successes and build the show into the premier GA event for the West Coast. Herold tells AVweb how this month's event came together. 

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AVweb’s search of aviation news worldwide found announcements from Avidyne, Aero Electric Aircraft, Dassault Aviation and True Blue Power. Avidyne announced the winners of the $55,000 Dream Panel Giveaway contest that ran from May 1 – Sept. 30, 2016. The Grand Prize winner was David Mullins of Texas, who won a Full Avidyne IFR & ADS-B-Compliant Stack. Aero Electric Aircraft Corporation (AEAC), which is developing the "Sun Flyer" solar-electric training aircraft, and TC Aero Group, which offers full-service maintenance, repair and overhaul with facilities in Florida and Minnesota, announced the launch of a Sun Flyer sales and service center for the State of Florida.  

Dassault Aviation’s revolutionary Combined Vision System – dubbed FalconEye –has been certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration for use on the Falcon 2000S and LXS twinjet aircraft. FalconEye will also be certified soon on the new Falcon 8X ultra-long-range trijet. True Blue Power announced the FAA has granted a Supplemental Type Certificate for the company's TB17 (17-amp hour) lithium-ion batteries on Robinson R44 helicopters. This is the first STC granted by the FAA for lithium-ion battery use as a primary electrical power source, including engine start.

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Compared to landing, taking off is relatively simple. Our instructor lets us make the first takeoff of our very first flying lesson—or at least makes us think we made the takeoff. If everything goes right, it’s easy. But how do you know everything is going right? And how do you know what to do in the scant seconds available if something is going wrong?

As an instructor, I don’t find many general aviation pilots who consciously brief themselves for takeoff. I doubt most flight instructors teach the concept. Yet the only way you’ll swiftly and correctly make the right decisions and do the right thing if things go wrong on takeoff is to have “right” at the top of your mind. Generations of commercial and military pilots have learned that the best way to prepare for takeoff—both normal and emergency situations—is to brief the takeoff procedure just before taking the runway for departure.

The Takeoff Roll

You’re lined up for takeoff. It’s a warm autumn day; winds are light and the skies are blue, with a few puffs of high cumulus hinting of the coming change in seasons. A long stretch of trim, green grass slopes slightly downward away from you between freshly harvested fields as the propeller ticks over at the beginning of the turf runway. Your before-takeoff checks are complete and you’re ready for your VFR flight. What more do you need to consider to make a safe takeoff before pushing the throttle to the stop?

The summary at the end of this article highlights three factors pilots should consider on every takeoff. We’ll call them the Three ‘A’s. For example, it’s a widely accepted rule of thumb that the aircraft’s acceleration should be sufficient so that the airplane achieves 70 percent of its liftoff speed by the time it has passed 50 percent of the expected takeoff distance. (This rule is to help assure that you will break ground within the available runway—it does not mean you will clear any obstacles at the end of the runway.) To use this rule of thumb, you need to know your liftoff speed and have some idea of how much runway will be required for this takeoff.

With all factors considered, visualize the point at which the aircraft should lift off under current conditions, then pick a spot on the runway halfway to the liftoff point. It could be a sign or a taxiway intersection, or a specific centerline stripe Then compute 70 percent of the liftoff speed. If you haven’t achieved the target speed by the target location, abort and then figure out what you need to do—offload passengers, bags or both—to execute a successful takeoff within appropriate margins.

If the circumstances of the abort or its outcome require, evacuate the aircraft occupants after the aircraft comes to a stop. Brief your passengers on the evacuation procedure—in many aircraft the number and location of doors will dictate the order in which occupants must exit. Tell passengers how you want them to exit, and where you want them to go after they get out (“Stay behind the wing and move well away from the aircraft,” etc.).

The type of takeoff you will make (normal, short-field, soft-field) will help determine the airspeed and attitude targets for initial climb. Brief your initial pitch attitude and airspeed targets.

But initial climb also is a point at which any problems can rear their ugly heads: Now that some air is flowing past the airframe, any unsecured access or cabin doors can manifest themselves, and fuel can begin siphoning out of loose caps. If you’re departing a long runway, one with adequate length to land—or at least one without any sudden-stop obstacles—consider reducing power to idle and landing. Whether or not adequate runway exists for such an abort also is a determination you should make before applying takeoff power. Presuming there are no such anomalies, configure the airplane for the climb, turn as necessary and carry on. But if there is an anomaly, you need to assess it and react accordingly.

For example, if any anomaly not immediately affecting controllability or power presents itself, I will plan to continue climbing straight ahead to at least 1000 feet agl before attempting to address it. If a controllability issue occurs, I will attempt to lower the nose slightly for more control authority, and if possible climb to at least 1000 feet agl before attempting to address the issue.

Power Loss

If a partial power loss occurs, I will lower the nose to maintain airspeed. If I am still able to climb, I will climb straight ahead to at least 1000 feel agl before turning to land. Remember that even a shallow turn will reduce the vertical lift component in favor of the horizontal, reducing your overall rate of climb by an amount determined by the bank angle. Maintain a wings-level attitude to your target altitude.

With a more severe power reduction eliminating the ability to climb, treat such a partial-power loss as a total engine failure. Two keys to surviving an engine failure on takeoff shouldn’t come as a revelation: You must maintain control and already have in mind a location or direction for your engine-out landing.

Maintaining control means ensuring there’s enough airspeed to avoid a stall but at the same time touching down wings level at the slowest safe speed. The speed at which you want to touch down is not the published best glide value but the one for landing without power, or a similarly named minimum sink rate speed from the POH/AFM. As explored in a recent article in this magazine (“Takeoff Engine Failures,” Aviation, Safety, June 2014), you’ll probably need a healthy push on the pitch control to prevent bleeding off what airspeed you have and losing control.

Knowing where to go is just as important as establishing and maintain the proper airspeed. Do you land straight ahead, or are there better options within a safe, shallow-banked turn—say, 30-45 degrees of heading change—away from your takeoff heading? Knowing beforehand where you’ll go in the event of an engine failure on takeoff is a key point I hear very few pilots voice until prompted.

Below at least 1000 feet agl, the best option usually is to land straight ahead, “with shallow turns to avoid school buses and orphanages” as my first flight instructor quipped before every takeoff. With a little altitude your options improve; although you probably can’t make it back to the runway from less than 1200 feet or so agl, a value based on my experience presenting the turnback option in simulator training.

You may be able to make a 45-degree turn to avoid houses and land in a field, or a 90-degree turn to land on the beach when taking off from a runway perpendicular to a shore. From 800 feet agl or so you might even be able to turn 120 to 180 degrees, back to a taxiway or parallel/crossing runway, or at least get back to airport property if you can’t get make it to your departure runway. Regardless of where you’ll go, you’ll need to make a snap decision under stress when the time comes...a task made far easier by deciding before you’re stressed, and briefed just before takeoff.

Where will you go? If you’re familiar with the airport you probably have a good idea. If you’re just passing through, try to take a look off the departure end of the runways as you’re coming in to land. Call up the airport on your tablet computer or smartphone, and look at the Google Earth image of the airport for clues about where you’d land if an engine quits right after takeoff.

What’s Next?

Presuming all the big parts are still flying in close formation and there’s no issue with the power available after takeoff, now what? Where are you going, how high are you climbing and with what facility, if any, do you need to communicate? These questions actually should be answered before taking the active runway, and they set the tone for your entire takeoff and initial climb.

Some of the answers depend on the weather and clearance, if any, the flight’s mission, terrain and airspace. I’ve waited to present them here, however, because the foregoing items are generic no matter the mission. This portion of your takeoff briefing includes the type of departure (VFR or IFR) and, as assigned or if you’re heading off on a cross-country, your initial altitude and heading.

Okay, that sounds like a lot to consider before a takeoff. If everything goes right, it seems like too much. But if anything goes wrong, a little problem or a big one, it’s vital that you know what you need to do beforehand. For our grass-strip takeoff on that idyllic autumn day, the briefing can be as simple as: something like the following:

“This will be a VFR departure for a local area flight. I should lift off at 50 knots about abeam the big fence post on the left. That means I should be indicating about 35 knots as I pass the last hangar on the right. If the airspeed is not at least 35 knots as I pass the hangar, I’ll reduce throttle to idle, hold back pressure and apply braking to come to a stop. If necessary I’ll evacuate my passenger, who knows to stay behind the wing and we’ll meet at the last hangar.

“After takeoff, I’ll hold VX, 60 KIAS, until clear of obstacles. If anything goes wrong once we’re off the ground, I’ll continue flying to pattern altitude before turning. If I have partial power loss or trouble controlling the airplane, I’ll lower the nose to pick up more speed and climb. If I cannot climb, or have a total power failure, I’ll turn slightly to the left to land on the golf course off the end of the runway while extending flaps and slowing to 55 KIAS, the published airspeed for landing without power.”

You might say it all aloud in a structured briefing—which I recommend—but, regardless, you definitely have to think about everything in this briefing to safely manage even an LSA grass-strip takeoff.

You know what? The same briefing for taking off in an LSA or training airplane also applies to a Bonanza or a Mooney, or even a TBM900 or Pilatus PC-12 making a VFR departure. It’s the operation that determines the takeoff briefing’s extent and detail. One exception to this “rule” involves multi-engine airplanes.

As you might expect, the differences in briefing for departure in a multi-engine airplane all relate to what happens in the event of an engine failing during or immediately after takeoff. Your takeoff briefing’s abort section should include pulling both throttles or power levers to idle. Meanwhile, add to your anomalies section, “If an engine loses power, I will lower the nose to maintain blue line (VYSE) airspeed and use rudder to maintain heading. I will identify the failed engine, verify my identification and feather the correct propeller, or shut down the correct jet engine, by following the emergency checklist.” Except for those differences, the VFR or IFR departure briefing items apply.

You’ll probably never need to respond to an anomaly during or immediately after takeoff. If you ever do, however, you’ll be glad you reviewed these decisions beforehand.

The Three A’s Of Takeoffs

Many factors can affect a takeoff’s outcome, but these three should be considered each and every time before taxiing onto the runway:

Acceleration

Acceleration during takeoff is the result of combining factors like power development, aircraft configuration and runway condition. Completing your before takeoff checklist should put the aircraft in the proper configuration and set the power controls so you’ll get takeoff power when you apply full throttle. Your preflight planning should remind you what you must do to obtain takeoff power (for example, set the mixture for high density altitude, with engines requiring manual leaning), the impact runway slope and condition will have on takeoff performance, and the distance needed to get off the runway and/or clear any obstacles.

Abort

As the main text relates, a widely used rule of thumb is to attain 70 percent of the needed airspeed by the time you use up 50 percent of the expected ground roll. What will you do if you don’t reach your target before the runway’s midpoint? What comes next should be an automatic reaction: Reduce throttle to idle and apply back pressure on the controls for aerodynamic braking and prevent wheelbarrowing (putting too much weight on the nosewheel) or nose-over (and in tailwheel designs, for tailwheel contact). Apply maximum braking without locking up the wheels and skidding the tires. Maintain directional control throughout.

Anomalies

What if a door pops open during takeoff, or the alternator out light starts to flash, or you see fuel streaming from behind an “I thought I’d closed that tight” fuel cap? Many accidents occur because a minor issue distracted the pilot in a busy phase of flight. Maintain control, fly the airplane and return for a normal landing, if possible, or divert to a nearby airport to address the problem.

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Aviation Safety magazine.

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What makes training good? What makes it stick so that when you really need it, you can make the right decision and execute accordingly? Anyone who has earned a flight instructor certificate will remember the Six Laws of Learning as elucidated in the FAA’s dreary Aviation Instructor’s Handbook. My friend John Deakin once told me after he got through that volume and took the written, he felt in strong need of a hot shower.

When I went through primary training, there was only one law of learning: the Law of the Rolled Up Sectional to the back of the head. Musta worked. I’ve made it this far. What caused me to ruminate on this is two things: a conversation I had over the weekend with a friend who’s about to start flying aeromedical flights and a movie I saw last week. I mentioned the movie, Deepwater Horizon, in a blog last week.

What the movie has to do with training is that in the film, there’s a scene in which the protagonist and supporting characters are about to be flown 40 miles offshore in a helicopter. The director very carefully included tracking shots of the vast aviation infrastructure that supports the offshore oil industry to give some sense of the scale of the enterprise. Helicopters in the hundreds organized almost like airlines. But the instant I saw that, I didn’t think of airlines, but some training I had 15 years ago at a company called Survival Systems USA in Groton, Connecticut.

This company is devoted mainly to one thing: to teach passengers and crews how to egress a helicopter that’s crashed or ditched into the ocean. They aren’t the only company doing it, but every worker in the offshore oil business will go through some version of that training before boarding a helo to a rig or a production platform. And that’s instantly what I thought of and I’ll be damned if I didn’t find myself running the bullet points from that training: Be ready for cold water gasp, wait until the aircraft is completely at rest, find and open or remove the exit door and then and only then, release the seatbelt and egress.

The daylong course I took covered a lot more than that but for eight hours, we endured repeated dunkings in a simulated helicopter cabin which, as helicopters do, always inverted after impact. The day culminated in one of these exercises in pitch black conditions. It was wet, cold and kind of scary. But to this day, those key points in the training bubble up from time to time. I even have a little wallet card they gave me certifying my training in emergency egress. I would have zero difficulty in doing it any conditions right now.

I think it stuck because the instructors structured most of the training as in support of those four bullet items. I seem to recall they said if you remember nothing else and do nothing else, you will increase your probability of survival. They reinforced this with repeated ditchings (Law of Exercise) with some variation thrown in, but with debriefings focused mainly on the four critical points. There wasn’t a lot of nuance. When you hear the phrase “relying on your lowest level of training,” it means that when panic has reduced your operating bubble to the diameter of a human hair, you’ll still be able to perform. Confidence in that ability can mean the difference between surviving and not surviving. However they managed to do it, it worked. We can only hope we pass the same kind of confidence on to our students.

The Death of a King

My life of quiet desperation hasn’t often intersected with royalty. But it did once. You probably read that King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand died this week. What that has to do with aviation is that Thailand is a very aviation- and, especially, skydiving-oriented country. The latter is almost an obsession and I wouldn’t be surprised if it had spiritual overtones.

In 2006, I went to Thailand as part of The World Team and a successful attempt to set the record for the world’s largest skydive. Read about it here. The Royal Thai Air Force, the citizenry and the King himself were enthusiastic supporters of this project, which became part of the Royal Sky Festival. The Thai people treated us like the royalty we definitely were not.

With nearly 500 skydivers participating, the logistics were staggering. We met in Bangkok for a couple of days, then transferred to Udon Thani, a big airbase up near the Laotian border. Famed fighter pilot Robin Olds flew out that base during the Vietnam war. Some of the skydivers flew up to Udon in Air Force C-130s, but the King generously made his Airbus available for the rest of us. And that’s how I got a ride on the King’s airplane.   

So for me, his passing is not just another news story for halfway round the world, but a touchstone for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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