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Volume 26, Number 19b
May 8, 2019
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FAA Convenes Advisory Board to Vet 737 MAX Updates
Marc Cook

The FAA on Tuesday announced that it has convened a Technical Advisory Board to review Boeing’s proposed changes to the 737 MAX’s MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) software. The board, which does not have Boeing representation, includes the FAA, NASA, the U.S. Air Force and Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (part of the Department of Transportation).

According to the FAA, the board’s recommendations will “directly inform the FAA’s decision concerning the 737 MAX fleet’s safe return to service.” Boeing, though previously said to be targeting a return-to-service of the 737 MAX in July, has not yet formally submitted the software updates to the FAA. Owing to domestic and international pressure, the FAA appears ready to work very carefully through any proposed changes to the MCAS control logic.

“The TAB is charged with evaluating Boeing and FAA efforts related to Boeing’s software update and its integration into the 737 MAX flight control system. The TAB will identify issues where further investigation is required prior to FAA approval of the design change,” according to the FAA.

Convincing the FAA that the new software will address what is broadly considered to be a causal factor in the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents will be only the first stage of returning the MAX to the air worldwide. Several international aviation authorities have indicated that they will conduct their own investigations before allowing the MAX to fly in their regions. In addition, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has appointed a special committee to review the certification process that allowed the MCAS software to be approved in its previous configuration.

Recently, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg corrected a largely misunderstood point about the reason for MCAS in the first place; it was designed to augment stability at light weights and aft loadings and not to be a stall-prevention scheme. What’s more, Southwest Airlines, the customer with the most MAX jets in the U.S., recently learned that software to show a disagreement of the two angle-of-attack sensors was not configured as was described by Boeing, and that changes to correctly depict a sensor anomaly were instituted only after the Lion Air crash late last year.

Accident Probe: Test Pilot
Joseph E. (Jeb) Burnside

My airplane has wingtip-mounted fuel tanks, installed under a supplemental type certificate (STC). In many ways, they’ve transformed and improved the machine by adding greater loading flexibility, thanks in part to a gross-weight increase. What drag they produce isn’t noticeable, and the additional endurance means the airplane is faster over some trips than it was before. For many of my destinations, I can depart with full tanks, fly to my destination, shoot an approach, miss it and fly home with reserves.

But the first time I flew the airplane after the installation was complete and signed off, I did slow flight and stalls to determine if the airplane’s low-speed characteristics had changed. After leak checks, I topped all the tanks and took off solo, heading for the practice area. I climbed to 3000 feet, cleared the area and flew level turns with the stall warner on for about five minutes. Then I pulled the power off and kept easing back on the yoke until the stall broke and the airplane fell off on a wing. I recovered, did one with some power and went home. My brief career as a test pilot was over. With the tip tanks installed, the airplane basically handled as it did before, and I was satisfied. But it just as easily could have gone pear shaped. I was, quite literally, the first to fly what was essentially an untested airplane.

There are many ways to screw up performing a stall series, but one of the easiest is to start out at too low an altitude. No, you probably won’t always need a 3000-foot altitude margin when doing stalls in a certified piston single (the FAA recommends at least 1500 feet), but it can’t hurt. Another way to screw up a stall series is to start out with plenty of altitude, but then not climbing back up where you were for the next round.


On December 7, 2016, at about 1043 Alaska time, a ski-equipped Bellanca 7GCBC Citabria was substantially damaged when it impacted terrain about 17 miles southeast of Fairbanks, Alaska. The solo airline transport pilot was fatally injured. Visual conditions prevailed for the local flight, which was the first one for the airplane after a vortex generator (VG) kit was installed under an STC.

Data from a portable GPS receiver found in the wreckage included time, location and GPS altitude, plus groundspeed and track information. The airplane began its takeoff roll at 1026:14. Between 1033:11 and 1037:07, the airplane performed one right 360-degree turn and two 720-degree turns—one to the left and one to the right—while flying at GPS altitudes between 1601 feet and 1437 feet and maintaining groundspeeds of 44 to 100 knots. At 1037:07, the airplane turned to a southwesterly track and performed slow-flight maneuvers. The airplane slowed to 46 knots for a period of 19 seconds, accelerated and then slowed to 40 knots for 14 seconds before accelerating to 68 knots, maneuvers consistent with practicing stalls.

At 1040:52, the airplane began tracking southeast for two minutes and 36 seconds. During this final track, the airplane descended from 1545 feet to 981 feet, decelerated from 81 knots to 26 knots, and then entered a rapid descent at about 2000 fpm and a rapid turn to the south. About 30 seconds before the rapid descent began, the airplane had a rate of descent of 510 fpm as it decelerated below 40 knots. The last valid data indicated increasing groundspeed of 35 knots and a GPS altitude of 587 feet (75 feet AGL).


All major components of the airplane were located at the accident site, which was contained within an area about 60 feet long and 20 feet wide at an elevation of about 512 feet MSL. The initial impact point was indicated by three freshly fractured spruce treetops about 350 feet from the wreckage. The fuel tanks were ruptured but liquid consistent with 100LL avgas was present in the left wing.

Both propeller blades sustained damage consistent with being under power during impact. Control continuity was established from the cockpit to the control surfaces. The VGs on the wings and horizontal stabilizer were examined, measured and determined to be installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

The exact gross weight of the airplane could not be determined because its fuel load could not be verified. Based on the mechanic’s recollection that the fuel tanks were about � full before engine start, the airplane’s weight was calculated to be 1705 lbs., 55 lbs. above its maximum gross takeoff weight. The center of gravity was calculated to be within limits.

Weather in the area included light northerly winds, visibility of 10 miles, clear skies below 12,000 feet and cold temperatures. Sunrise was at 1037, with the sun at an elevation angle of 0.1 degree above the horizon at an azimuth of 153 degrees true at 1043.

The VG manufacturer’s documentation called for a post-installation test flight “which need only consist of a subjective evaluation of aircraft handling to determine that no adverse characteristics exist.” The VG manufacturer did not provide guidance on how to conduct the test flight or determine any adverse effect. The STC application paperwork included a test-pilot notation that before the VG installation on a similar airplane, a definite left-wing drop was noted at aerodynamic stall; however, after VG installation, none was noted.

Probable Cause

The NTSB determined the probable cause(s) of this accident to include: “The pilot’s operation of the airplane at an altitude that was too low to allow for recovery from an intentional aerodynamic stall, which resulted in an impact with terrain. Contributing to the accident were the pilot’s inability to recognize altitude deviations during slow flight due to the sun glare and the pilot’s lack of knowledge of the stall performance characteristics of the airplane modified with vortex generators due to the lack of information from the manufacturer.”

The pilot initiated the practice stall sequence lower than recommended and apparently entered a deep stall with a high descent rate. The NTSB highlighted the VG-test airplane’s tendency to drop a wing in a stall before the VGs were installed and its lack of such a tendency afterward. It’s possible the pilot didn’t realize he was fully stalled, and the early-morning glare of the sun rising in his face helped with the illusion he was higher than he was. Regardless, he had insufficient altitude to safely recover from the maneuver before the airplane impacted terrain.

Aircraft Profile: Bellanca 7GCBC Citabria

Engine: Lycoming O-360-A2B

Empty Weight: 1150 lbs.

Maximum Gross Takeoff Weight: 1650 lbs.

Typical Cruise Speed: 111 KTAS

Standard Fuel Capacity: 35 gal.

Service Ceiling: 17,000 feet

Range: 480 NM


Prevent Aerodynamic Stall At Low Altitude

According to the NTSB, “While maneuvering an airplane at low altitude in visual meteorological conditions, many pilots fail to avoid conditions that lead to an aerodynamic stall, recognize the warning signs of a stall onset, and apply appropriate recovery techniques. Many stall accidents result when a pilot is momentarily distracted from the primary task of flying, such as while maneuvering in the airport traffic pattern, during an emergency, or when fixating on ground objects....

“Reducing [angle of attack] by lowering the airplane’s nose at the first indication of a stall is the most important immediate response for stall avoidance and stall recovery. This may seem counterintuitive at low altitudes, but is a necessary first step.”

Jeb Burnside is the editor-in-chief of Aviation Safety magazine. He’s an airline transport pilot who owns a Beechcraft Debonair, plus half of an Aeronca 7CCM Champ.

This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Aviation Safety magazine.

For more great content like this, subscribe to Aviation Safety!

FAA 20-Year Forecast: GA Stable, Airlines Up, Drones Way Up
Marc Cook

The Federal Aviation Administration has dusted off its FAA-approved crystal ball and published the FAA Aerospace Forecast for 2019-2039. The extensive report takes into account global economic factors in the recent past to project demand for aircraft, pilots and facilities over the next two decades.

Broadly, the FAA sees stable growth for airlines, overall stability for general aviation even as the mix of missions and aircraft are expected to change, and dramatic growth of the UAV or drone market.

For the airlines, the FAA is predicting total enplanements to grow steadily through the period, from just over 800 million in 2019 to roughly 1.1 billion by 2039. While this rate of growth seems impressive, the FAA is actually expecting the overall rate of growth for domestic airline flying to be lower than it has in recent years. To no one’s surprise, the FAA is also predicting a steady rise in load factors for airlines from just under 85% today to a bit more than 86.5% by 2039. So you can stop dreaming of an open middle seat any day now.

For general aviation, the FAA says that the long-term outlook is “stable to optimistic, as growth at the high-end offsets continuing retirements at the traditional low end of the segment. The active general aviation fleet is forecast to remain relatively level between 2019 and 2039.” It notes that “continued growth of the turbine and rotorcraft fleets, the largest segment of the fleet—fixed wing piston aircraft—continues to shrink over the forecast.” There may be fewer light airplanes in the fleet but overall GA will be flying more, according to the prognostications. “The number of general aviation hours flown is projected to increase an average of 0.8 percent per year through 2039, as growth in turbine, rotorcraft, and experimental hours more than offset a decline in fixed wing piston hours.”

But by far the biggest surprise in the FAA’s predictions involve UAVs. More than 175,000 drones were registered with the FAA last year, which boosted the known population by a whopping 170%. Previously, the FAA predicted a 44% growth in the segment. If current trends continue, the population of registered drones could be more than 420,000 by 2020 and more than double that by 2023. “The significant growth in this sector over the past year demonstrates the uncertainty and potential of the market. We anticipate the growth rate of the sector will slow down over time. Nevertheless, the sector will be much larger than what we understood as recently as last year,” the FAA said.

Read the whole report here.

Miami Air Offers $2500 Goodwill Gesture
Marc Cook

Passengers who survived the Miami Air 737 that skidded off the runway in Jacksonville last week have been offered $2500 as a “goodwill gesture” from the airline. All 143 people aboard survived the overrun, though three animals in the cargo hold perished. The 737-800 was carrying military and family members from Guantanamo Bay.

Miami Air CEO Kurt Kamrad wrote to the passengers of Miami Air Flight 293 offering the gesture, noting that “safety and satisfaction of our passengers are our top priorities” and that “acceptance of this payment will not affect your rights.” He also said that the passengers’ checked baggage was still aboard the partially submerged Boeing and as soon as the NTSB will allow, the airline’s staff will collect, clean and return the baggage.

As we reported earlier, “Thunderstorms and heavy rain showers were reported in the area at the time. The runway at the base is 9,000 feet long and the aircraft stopped about 1,000 feet off the end.”

Collings F6F Hellcat To Appear At Oshkosh
Marc Cook

Newly restored to its original condition, the Collings Foundation’s Grumman F6F will make an appearance at AirVenture this year, EAA has announced. Previously shown at the National Museum of the Marine Corps and then the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, the Grumman has been the subject of a three-year restoration on behalf of Collings at American Aero Services in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.

Designed an F6F-3N, this particular aircraft was modified to be a night fighter. According to Collings, “Select brand-new F6F-3 Hellcats coming off the line at Grumman were modified in secret. Very little is known about the actual conversion process of the planes. We do know a new instrument panel and a radar pod were installed. The modifications made F6F-3N a different beast. It was designed to hone in on a target with its AIA or AN/APS-6 radar. The pilot was trained to fly the plane through the scope, before picking up the target aircraft visually at very close range.”

After its war service, this F6F made the rounds as a night trainer and eventually was placed at Naval Air Station as a maintenance trainer. Powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-2800, 2000-HP radial, the Hellcat was considered easier to manage during carrier operations than the arguably sexier F4U Corsair. More than 12,000 were built, starting in November 1945.

The Hellcat is part of EAA’s “Year of the Fighter” special exhibit at AirVenture 2019.

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FAA: Special Bulletin Stops Short of AD on Lycoming Cylinders
Marc Cook

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin (SAIB) on May 2 in which it reiterated issues with Lycoming cylinders shipped between September 1, 2013, and April 30, 2015, but the agency has declined to issue an Airworthiness Directive to enforce replacement of these cylinders. The suspect cylinders were the subject of a Mandatory Service Bulletin (MSB) in October 2018.

“At this time, the airworthiness concern is not considered an unsafe condition that would warrant airworthiness directive (AD),” the FAA said in the release of the new SAIB.

Affecting all parallel-valve cylinders except those for the O-235-series engines, the MSB and SAIB call attention to the fact that these cylinders have been subject to cracking between the 14th and 15th cylinder fins on the intake side of the head. Lycoming says that high CHTs (from improper leaning or poor baffle condition) contribute to the likelihood of cracking. What’s more, the SAIB says that “Lycoming has not published any information on the repair of cylinders because their policy has been to replace cylinders at engine overhaul. In addition, Lycoming does not authorize or recommend that third parties repair cylinders.”

Identification of the specific cylinder assemblies impacted by this SAIB can be found in the MSB issued in 2018.

No Survivors In Challenger 601 Crash
Marc Cook

A chartered Challenger 601 bound to Monterrey, Mexico, from Las Vegas crashed in a remote region of Mexico near Ocampo, leaving no survivors. USA Today is reporting that “search crews on Monday found no survivors. The jet carried three crew members and 10 passengers who were returning from a trip that included seeing a boxing match.”


The wreckage was found 165 miles northwest of Monterrey. Flight history data from shows the Challenger’s flight track ending in the vicinity of rain showers, with a strong cell plotted some 20 statute miles northeast of the flight track. One hour and 31 minutes into the flight, the radar track shows the Challenger climbing from FL370 and slowing, with a maximum recorded altitude of 40,500 feet. Radar contact is lost at the 1-hour, 44-minute mark. Controllers lost radio contact with the flight around that time.

Boxer Saul “Canelo” Alvarez said on Twitter, “I deeply lament the terrible accident of the plane coming from Vegas. I’m deeply grateful for the support of all the people who travel to see my fights. My prayers are with their families.”

Stainless Steel Straws And Airplanes
Paul Bertorelli

I was sitting in a traffic jam Friday and getting ever more steamed because I was already 20 minutes late. Adding to my dismay was that the local NPR station was running its spring fundraising drive and interrupting the programming every five minutes. Piling on top of that and irritating me further is that they were giving away stainless steel straws as a premium, complete with carrying bag and cleaning brush.

You can guess where I’m going with this, I suppose. I have a thing about stainless steel straws. They have become emblematic of a certain kind of environmental virtue signaling that I find particularly off-putting. (Standby, I’m gonna deftly segue to airplanes here in a couple of lines.)

Stainless steel straws are supposed to help mitigate the global scourge of disposable, single-use plastics. That’s a real thing, by the way, and needs attention, but doing it with straws you carry around in a little bag isn’t it. That’s because it’s not a market-based solution, or at least not much of one, because when given the choice of a free toss-away straw and remembering your car keys, wallet, cellphone, sunglasses and your stupid metal straw, guess which you’ll pick?

We’re generally not burdened with virtue signaling in aviation because I can think of at least several avowed environmentalists who tool along in airplanes burning 18 gallons an hour—or more. We’ve all made accommodations for this and I’m the last guy to make a moral judgment about it given my hydrocarbon-rich lifestyle.

Electric airplanes are, to a degree, virtue signaling, but I see that as a coattail to what they really represent—creative people using new technology to fundamentally reshape flying machines. Less noise and lower emissions may actually eventually drive the market appeal, but for now, the entire nascent industry is in what I think will be an extended proof-of-concept phase. Early adopters will try to make them work economically, but performance-compromised as e-airplanes are, that’s likely a niche for the next five years, if not longer.

When I interview aviation people from Europe at Aero, I’m always struck by the contrast in attitude toward environmental issues in aviation compared to the U.S. In Europe, I’d call it acceptance/resignation and in the U.S. curiosity/dismissiveness. The EU is lathered with all kinds of regulations and if the air isn’t noticeably cleaner there, it’s definitely a quieter place. Because regulators seem to target aviation, the industry there is more proactive in designing cleaner, quieter airplanes, hence the elevated interest in electrics.

At a Rotax event five years ago, one of the executives told me that noise and emissions regulations were intrusive and annoying, but because the company wants to keep on selling engines of all kinds, it spends lot of R&D money on clean and quiet. It’s no accident that the 912 iS’s lean setting is called eco mode.

That is a market-driven solution, by the way, somewhat forced by regulation. The 912 iS is not in every ultralight and light sport, but it’s probably in most of them. The 915 iS is finding traction both because of its higher horsepower, but also because it’s deemed to be more efficient and thus greener. But is it really, or just green shellac? I haven’t done the numbers on the 915, but the 912 iS definitely is more efficient.

But efficient enough to … to what? If you’re after an airborne Prius, forget it. But when I was discussing electric airplanes with Daher’s Nicolas Chabbert recently after Aero, he pointed out that whether we agree with emissions regulations on airplanes or not, they’re coming in some form and the aircraft industry needs to explore what it can to satisfy them. That’s in part why Daher got involved with Airbus on an electric airplane project—since aborted—and why, in part, it put autothrottles on the latest TBM 940 to eke a little efficiency out of the PT-6. The latter is a market-driven solution because it gives Daher a new model to sell.

At Aero, I reported on another environmental conundrum for aviation, specifically the fact that as the FAA tidies up work on the Piston Aviation Fuel Initiative to certify an unleaded 100-octane fuel, the EPA seems unlikely to declare a lead finding of endangerment. Ergo, no pressure to get rid of the lead.

Lycoming’s Michael Kraft suggested that overcoming this barrier will require that ever-popular MBA buzzword, the voice of the customer. Stainless steel straws here we come. But, wait a minute. I see an opening here.

Other than the environmental argument, which I’ve always seen as weak, the benefit of unleaded fuel is lower maintenance bills; no fouled sparkplugs, cleaner oil and less corrosion. So show me. I propose that GAMA, in concert with the engine manufacturers, put together a little demonstration and ad campaign to put some numbers on this. I can see it now … here’s your engine on 100LL, here it is on unleaded. Here’s your oil and so forth. Perhaps that shifts it from green-washing to the market solution that can actually solve some of these problems without resorting to carting around your own straw and a brush.

And by the way, just for the record, better than a plastic straw or a metal one are these candy cane paper straws. I buy them at the local Publix. They’re both cheap and biodegradable—the perfect market solution. But my real reason for buying them is they're nicer to use than plastic or metal.

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Didn’t even know that these things (paper straws) were still being made!

And…another great column.

Have you thought of running for political office?

Richard Katz

You've hit the nail on the head. The consumers drive the market. One can force regulations down our throats, by mandating lead out of the fuels, leaner emissions, etc; and the consumer will grudgingly accept it when forced, and only when forced. But, what if the FAA starts saying things like, run on unleaded fuels and your 2000-hour TBO can become a 3000-hour TBO? Now you are going to get a buy in by the consumer, and in fact, the consumer will actually demand it. Has the Lycoming, Continental, or the FAA ever made mention of something like that? Not that I have ever heard. But that shows a lack of forward thinking on the part of the manufacturers.

Those of us who have been around for more than a few decades can remember back in the 1960s when a car with 60,000 miles on it was considered to be worn out, and the engine was likely due for some major work. What happened, that now we routinely drive our cars 200,000 - 300,000 miles and they are still not worn out? (I own two with 250,000 and just sold one with 340,000 miles on it that still ran like new). Unleaded fuel is what happened. In 1974, new car engines were mandated to run on unleaded fuel. Jan 1, 1996, leaded gasoline was taken off the market for automobiles. This forced some changes in that the metallurgists had to come up with better valves and hardened valve seats. Additionally, since there was no longer lead in the fuel, and consequently present in the oil as a waste product for the oil to deal with, the lubricants also changed significantly.
We have continued to hang onto the lead in aviation. The resistance of the consumer is incredible, and mostly based on ignorance of the benefits. Anyone that works on small Continentals can readily see the damage the lead build up does to the valve guides if an engine is run on 100LL. New engines get sticky exhaust valves, then the lead build up on the exhaust valve stems wears the guides prematurely, and the top end needs overhauled long before it should be due. But instead of demanding a change to the fuels, we still hang onto the lead to make the turbocharged and high compression guys happy, and so the FBOs don't have to carry multiple grades of fuel. Getting the lead out of avgas will also bring about an improvement in our lubricants as they will no longer have to deal with lead contamination. The metallurgical work as already been done for the automotive industry, and most newer aircraft cylinders already incorporate it.
In the mean time, mechanics still deal with lead poisoning (although most are unaware and should be tested for high lead blood levels), and we continue to prematurely overhaul engines that would otherwise continue running for many long and happy hours if they had been operating on unleaded fuel. How many aiarcraft owners help with their annuals by spending an afternoon with a dental pick picking lead balls out of their spark plugs and contaminate themselves with lead salts in the process? We, as consumers, should be demanding a switch to unleaded fuels, or at the very least a phase down of leaded fuels back to the much lower content of the old 80-octane red gas (although with a higher 100-octane rating for the high-performance guys), then eventually to no lead. It would be better for our engines, it would be better for all of us the handle fuels or get fuel on our hands when draining the sumps on a plane, and for those of us that are mechanics that routinely work on lead contaminated engine parts.
The auto industry did a 20-year phase down of leaded to unleaded fuels. And I recall all the griping about the government forcing unleaded fuels on us as consumers. Perhaps it's time for the aviation industry to take a lesson from the auto industry and follow suit?
Jeff Scott
I agree with Paul Bertorelli that that "virtue signaling" is at most a "coattail" motive for switching to electric aircraft. There are so many tangible benefits that political correctness -- to the extent that a given pilot even cares about that -- absolutely pales in comparison.

Just think about the complexity of our piston engines and their myriad support systems. Crankshafts, rods, pistons, counterweights, and cams all flinging around at insane speeds. Oil reservoirs, coolers, separators, and lines. Magnetos or electronic ignition, spark plugs, leads, ignition switches. Fuel tanks, pumps, hard lines and braided hoses, screens and filters, carburetors and fuel injection units. Cooling baffles and cowl flaps. Prop governors. The list goes on, and the failure modes feel almost infinite.

I would happily trade all of that for an electric motor just as soon as battery technology can store enough energy for a two-hour flight at cruise power. Wake me when we get to that point!

DJ Molny

Defining The Decision Factors
Linda Pendleton

Visit any flight school, flying club or FBO and you’ll hear many “go or no go” discussions. Rarely will you hear a “need to or want to” discussion—and yet the correct answer to this fundamental decision is the one that can keep you alive and thriving. You say you’ve never had to make this decision? Let’s take a quick look at it— before we discuss the other decisions made prior to each flight.

According to dictionaries, a “need” is something that is necessary for an organism to live a healthy life. Needs are distinguished from “wants” in that a need is a deficiency that causes a clear adverse outcome: a dysfunction or death. In other words, a need is something required for a safe, stable, and healthy life, while a “want” is simply a desire, wish or aspiration. Too often pilots say they need to make a flight, when in reality they want to go.

Never, in 12,000+ hours of flight experience, have I been presented with a flight that I needed to make. I’ve delivered organs for transplant and children to dying parents, but never has there been a flight I needed to make. Yes, it’s a very selfish decision, and yet it is one you must make correctly.

Go Or No Go: Pilot

The decision starts with a personal reflection—are you trained, rated, experienced, current and capable of making this flight? We’ll assume you have an instrument rating, but have you taken any IFR refresher training lately? Do you meet the requirements of FAR 61.57 for instrument proficiency? What is your total time, instrument time, and actual IMC time? Cloud time is important because, as you discovered the first time you entered one, it’s a different animal than hood time. If you don’t have any cloud time, go get some ASAP—but take an instructor along that first time.

The weather you may attempt to conquer on any flight is directly related to your total cloud time and recency of experience. When I was flying every night, I was comfortable with weather at ILS minimums for approaches and solid cloud enroute. Now, my situation has changed, and basic VFR is about right for me!

As important as your certificates and ratings are, it’s your competency on the day of the flight that counts. Are you well rested? Is your mind free of overwhelming worry/sorrow in your personal life? Can you give total attention to this flight without any major distractions creeping in? Work the IMSAFE mnemonic to assure that there are no physiological or psychological hang-ups.

Go Or No Go: Plane Capabilities

Typically the aircraft dictates the type of weather you can venture into. I wouldn’t take a C-172 or PA28 into much more than stratus clouds with VFR bases and that has more to do with power available than number of engines. Power plant output will dictate some of the weather constraints.

Higher power aircraft with anti/ deice equipment rated for flight into known icing is needed for most flights into the clouds in the winter in the northern parts of the country or at higher altitudes in other parts. You need the power to climb quickly to weather either too warm (in an inversion—think of freezing rain) or too cold (more likely scenario) for icing. Weather avoidance radar is needed if thunderstorms are present or forecast. And remember, the radar is there to assist you in avoiding thunderstorms, not penetrating them.

An autopilot—For all but the most innocuous of IFR weather and the shortest of trips, an autopilot is necessary. Hand-flying an airplane in actual IFR conditions is tiring and (unfortunately) the part of the flight requiring the most precision comes at the end—the approach. You need to be as fresh as possible for that approach and an autopilot will help. If you must use an airplane without a functioning autopilot, consider taking a pilot friend with you. The other pilot does not have to be instrument rated—although that helps—but it’s nice to have a companion to help with refolding charts (oops, find the right display on your EFB), tuning radios, and reviewing options.

Wait—you say you don’t need charts because of the wonderful avionics package and beautiful displays you have in the aircraft you’re flying? Bravo! Have you ever heard of a guy named Murphy? Have the charts ready and available just in case. Displays can fail and electrical systems can fail. You can never be “over prepared.” It’s far better for the folks in the pilot lounge to be laughing at your over prepared state than reading your NTSB report.

Knobology—Are you totally familiar with the avionics package in the airplane? The midst of a minimums approach or unanticipated deteriorating weather is not the time or place to be rustling in the flight bag looking for the operating manual for your radios.

Go Or No Go: Weather

Many pilots seem to focus solely on the weather when making go/no go decisions, but, as we’ve discussed, it truly is only one part of the decision-making process—although an important one. Many pilots approach the weather decision as an “all or nothing” situation when, for the most time-efficient flight it may be a “how much and how far” decision.

Think about a flight you may contemplate taking to an airport southeast of your home base. There’s currently a line of frontal thunderstorms between you and your intended destination. Do you delay your takeoff until your destination is clear of TRWs? That may not be the most time-efficient way of managing this flight. Consider when the front is forecast to clear your destination. Has it been traveling as forecast up to the time of your latest briefing?

Is there an airport short of your destination that will be located in the clear after frontal/ TRW passage by the time you get there? (Is there an FBO with a decent pilot lounge and good coffee?) Consider landing there, refueling, and relaxing in contemplation of an approach at your intended destination. How close to your destination will this put you? You might consider renting a car and driving the rest of the way. This is a viable solution if the front seems to be stalling out or if the weather at your desired destination will remain too low for you to feel comfortable making an approach. Flying/driving trips can be a viable—and sometimes much safer —alternative.

And finally, the approach. You should have thoroughly studied all approaches available at your destination before you launched and should have the paper copies readily available. Have the procedures for setting up the approaches on your avionics package firmly in mind. Don’t forget the missed approach procedure.

If you’re receiving radar vectors for the approach do not accept a short turn-on unless you can see the runway from your present position. Before reaching the final approach course make sure you have the aircraft trimmed for your desired approach speed. (Yes, we always trim for a speed, not an altitude.) You should only take one try at an approach. If you don’t see the runway or the runway environs when the time/altitude runs out, of course you will execute a missed approach procedure. The only reason you should attempt another approach is if you can identify something you did wrong, that if corrected, would have resulted in a successful landing.

Linda D. Pendleton is a 40-year CFII, an ATP ASMEL with type ratings for the Cessna CE-500 and LRJET, and 12,000 hours.

This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of IFR Refresher magazine.

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