Sarina Houston - Page 3 Aviation Articles

The Importance of Checklists: 4 Accidents That Checklist Use Could Have Prevented


Photo 1981 by J-E Nystrom, Helsinki, Finland/CC 3.0

It’s human nature to be complacent. We’re all lazy, right? But aviation isn’t an industry that welcomes complacency, and even the slightest oversight on behalf of a pilot in command can mean the difference between a successful flight and an unsuccessful one.

My flight students get tired of me reminding them about checklists. Before we even get into the airplane, I can often be heard saying: "That preflight checklist is there for a reason." And on downwind, every single time: "Before Landing Checklist." Some people understand the tedious nature of checklists and accept it; others defy it.

Why don’t pilots use checklists? Probably because they don’t expect anything bad to happen when they don’t. After all, they’ve skipped a checklist- er, many checklists - before and nothing bad happened. Maybe they remember all of the items, after all. Or maybe it’s true that 999 out of 1,000 times, a forgotten checklist item still results in a successful flight, which reinforces the pilot’s belief that it isn’t complacency, but skill, that gets him back on the ground safely. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be more wrong.

We’d all like to think that we’d never end up crashing because of a forgotten checklist item. But here are a few examples of average pilots who failed to accomplish checklist items or otherwise got into trouble for a checklist-related item. We’re not any different. We’re not immune. At the very least, it’s embarrassing to end up like one of these pilots; at the worst, fatal. If using a checklist can potentially prevent you from embarrassment or death, shouldn’t we just use it?

Here are four accidents where proper checklist use would probably have prevented the accident entirely:
Gear Down and Locked
As seen on YouTube, the pilot of this Piper Aerostar twin-engine airplane landed without gear at Aero Acres Air Park in Port St. Lucie, Florida. And then, to everyone’s surprise, he took off again. You can see from this video that the airplane is coming in too fast and unstable, and the pilot decides to go around only after touching down. Unfortunately, the pilot not only forgot the gear, but he forgot his go-around procedures. The pilot claims that he intended to go around, retracted the gear and all of the flaps prematurely and sank to the runway. Once airborne, the pilot is said to have flown the aircraft all the way back to his home in Ft. Lauderdale- about 100 miles.

This is only one report of many, many gear-up landing situations. Pilots: Don’t forget your GUMPS checklist!

Flight Controls Free & Correct

Earlier this month, the NTSB released an animation highlighting the crash of a Gulfstream IV in Bedford, Massachusetts last year. The aircraft skidded off the runway after a failed rejected takeoff, killing seven people on board - two pilots, a flight attendant and four passengers. The reason for the crash? Failure to check that the flight controls were free and correct before takeoff, and subsequently failing to expedite a rejected takeoff once they determined the problem.

The NTSB report states: "A review of the flight crew’s previous 175 flights revealed that the pilots had performed complete preflight control checks on only two of them. The flight crew’s habitual noncompliance with checklists was a contributing factor to the accident." Sadly, seven lives were lost because basic checklist procedures were not followed.

Water Contamination
There are several ASRS reports from pilots who have lived through off-airport landings due to engine failure. Many of these emergency situations are due to engine failure from fuel starvation. In many of those cases, water contamination was the culprit. In this ASRS report, a man describes his lackadaisical preflight habits after his Grumman Tiger engine quits due to water in the fuel tanks:

"Although I did not discover the water prior to takeoff, I have learned a valuable lesson. I feel that I had gotten complacent in my approach to the pre-flight in that I never found condensed water in my tanks before due to keeping them full at all times." He admits to failing to sump the fuel carefully to check for water.

Got ATIS?
In the early days of flight training, it might not be apparently obvious why a student’s flight instructor emphasizes the importance of getting a current altimeter setting. If the flight is conducted in VFR, the altimeter can be off by 100 feet and it might not matter much. It’s not until a pilot flies an approach to minimums that he realizes the value of setting the altimeter correctly. Being 100 feet lower than you intend when you’re descending on an approach can mean crashing into the runway or just short of it.

Knowing how an altimeter works and accounting for altimeter error will only keep you out of trouble if you set it correctly. We’ve all heard stories of pilots being to low or too high during an approach into IMC. This compilation of NASA ASRS reports tells how altimeter errors can lead to altitude deviations, traffic separation violations and landing accidents.

The NASA report states, for example, that, "A helicopter accident resulting in four fatalities was attributed at least in part to an incorrectly set altimeter during a period of known low barometric pressure. The report from the Canadian Aviation Safety Board states: ‘The helicopter was being used to transport personnel to work sites across a large frozen lake. An approaching low pressure area with snow and high winds...reduced visibility to near zero in some areas. The pilot most certainly encountered adverse conditions and altered course to circumvent the worst areas. The aircraft was later found...wreckage was widely scattered. The altimeter showed a setting on impact of 30.05; the correct setting would be about 29.22, causing the altimeter to read about 800-850 feet high. The altimeter had obviously been set two days previously [apparently during a time of high barometric pressure-Ed.].’"

Incorrect altimeter settings can be fatal. Checklist procedures should always include getting the current altimeter setting occasionally during flight and always before landing.

Mastering the Go-Around


Every pilot knows that a good landing always begins with a good approach. But how does a pilot know when an approach is unstable? And what happens when the approach is unstable, but the pilot thinks he can salvage it? We all preach that a go-around is the simplest way to prevent a landing accident, but when was the last time you performed a go-around? Are you confident that you’ll respond the right way after a long flight, when you just want to go home, when you’re low on fuel, or when you just botch the landing?

A stable approach is one in which the aircraft is on glide path, on the desired approach airspeed, and configured appropriately for landing at a descent rate that will allow for a normal transition to land. Sounds easy enough, right? So why do so many pilots continue an approach to a landing, even after all of the warning signs of an unstable approach? And why are there still so many loss-of-control accidents during the approach and go-around procedures?

The stable approach is so important that most commercial operators require a go-around in the event of an unstable approach. For most airlines and commercial operations, if the approach is not stabilized by a certain height above the ground (sometimes 1,000 feet and sometimes 500 feet, and sometimes there are requirements for each), the pilot must execute a go-around. Stable approaches are a big deal, and one that the professional aviation world does not want to tangle with. In general aviation, however, we often don’t have these standard operating procedures written out for us by a company. Most of the time, we’re on our own. If we’re IFR, we can and should use the FAA’s guidelines, which state we should "…depart the FAF configured for landing and on the proper approach speed, power setting, and flightpath before descending below the minimum, stabilized approach height; e.g., 1,000 feet above the airport elevation and at a rate of descent no greater than 1,000 feet per minute (fpm), unless specifically briefed." For light aircraft pilots, the FAA basically tells us to maintain a proper glidepath visually. But we should still note that an unstable approach means one that is too high, too fast, or not in a normal position to land (i.e., excessive maneuvering is needed to land) and if any of those conditions exist, we should execute an immediate go-around.

We all want to make the first landing work. We don’t want to go around, maybe because it wastes time, wasted fuel, or just because we have too much pride and want to be able to land in any condition. But perhaps part of the problem is that we just don’t practice go-arounds very often, and not often enough. We don’t get familiar with them. We’d rather sacrifice the aircraft, sometimes even our own life, to get the airplane on the ground rather than waste a few more minutes to try again, or risk a go-around, which seems like a hazardous maneuver to those who have not mastered it.

Going around isn’t always the best option, but most of the time it won’t hurt. And when it’s the better option, you should absolutely be ready to accomplish one.

Commonly a student or a certificated pilot doing a flight review will blow off the go-around as if it’s an easy maneuver not worth practicing. Be careful about this; I’ve found that many pilots will bust a check ride or flight review for bad go-around procedures. To simplify this maneuver, I teach the 5 Cs, which work well for many types of general aviation aircraft (but check your aircraft POH for proper procedures!)

  • C- CRAM:Full/climb power, props forward, carb heat off
  • C- CLIMBSet the Vx or Vy climb pitch attitude and CLIMB! So many of us get distracted during a go-around procedure and we fail to climb! And keep in mind that if you have the aircraft trimmed for a slow-airspeed descent, adding full power will cause the nose to pitch up. Be ready to add forward pressure on the controls to counteract this pitch-up moment and prevent an elevator trim tab stall.
  • C- CLEAN Retract gear and flaps as necessary. In some aircraft, you’ll want to retract the first 30-40 degrees of flaps right away. For many common training aircraft, you’ll wait until you get to a safe altitude and airspeed, after the climb has been established, and retract flaps in increments, stabilizing the aircraft in the climb each time. Many people get excited and want to retract the flaps either all at once or just too early in the game. Cram, climb, and thenclean it up.
  • C- COOLOpen the cowl flaps and lean the mixture, if necessary.
  • C- CALL You’ll probably need to make a radio call, whether it’s to notify other traffic in the pattern at a nontowered field, or to announce your missed approach with the towet or with approach, but radio communication should only come after flying the airplane to a safe altitude at a safe airspeed and navigating to where you need to go.

Often, I witness students or certificated pilots botch not just a landing, but the resulting go-around procedure, as well. Practice this maneuver to proficiency – a bad landing isn’t something worth salvaging, but you’ll need to keep flying the airplane and properly execute the go-around if you want to be successful the second time around.

Paying It Forward: The Importance of Giving Back to Aviation's Next Generation

Remember back in the good ole' days, when you were eating ramen noodles and living out of a crash pad so that you didn't have to move in with your parents after college? Remember when you had nothing but your dreams ahead of you, only to be knocked down once or twice because you couldn't afford to follow through with them? Were you, by chance, one of those starving pilots who handed over your paycheck for a single flight in a 152, or a budding manager who lived out of your car during your first low-paying airport job? Or maybe you just came to your aviation career later in life, after struggling, maybe even giving up once or twice along the way, only to find some other way to make it happen years later?

Maybe your parents helped you along the way, or maybe a stranger, or maybe a supervisor who saw potential in you and gave you that well-deserved promotion. Perhaps you got a scholarship, or maybe you had a good mentor, or friends who made important connections for you along the way.

However you got to where you are, chances are good that you had some help. Whether it came to you financially, through a scholarship or a leg up from your parents, or whether you just worked hard every single day, you probably witnessed the importance of a helping hand as you worked your way to where you are.

Had I not had help along the way, my life would have taken a very different course. Perhaps I wouldn't even be in aviation today. Perhaps I'd have been pushed into a different, higher-paying job just to make ends meet. I'm certain I'd have found my way back into aviation, but it would have been a much longer road. But that didn't happen, thanks to a variety of generous people who helped me along the way. It seems like each time I ran out of money or resources or good fortune, I was offered a helping hand. Whether it was in the form of a place to stay, extra cash, a scholarship, or just words of encouragement, those acts of kindness and pure generosity meant that I could continue on my path to become a pilot.

During the early years of anyone's developing career path, this kind of help is so important. And aviation's next generation can use all the help they can get. Aviation is expensive, right? Flying, for those of us not blessed with unlimited financial resources, can seem so far out of our reach that some people just can't or won't even consider it. And even for those who have the resources, or those of us who have dug down deep and saved enough money, it seems like it's just never enough to get where you want to go.

I remember the feeling I had when, years ago, I got a scholarship letter in the mail. I was so grateful. It was more than just money, although that was important, too. It meant that somebody, somewhere, believed that I had what it takes to become a pilot, and that my hard work spent keeping up my grades and volunteering had paid off. It meant that I, and my family, would struggle less to come up with money for me to fly. And it meant, for at least the following year, I could continue on with my dreams. Months later, I met the generous man who had given me this scholarship, along with a couple of other scholarship recipients, and what he said has stuck with me. He didn't want anything in return, he said. He wasn't going to track our whereabouts or even our grades. He was just going to trust that we'd do the right thing, and that someday, after we've "made it," maybe we could pass on our good fortune to a younger generation. Pay it forward.

If you've "made it" in the aviation world, have you considered giving someone else a leg up? If you're financially sound, have you considered offering a scholarship to a young person who wants to follow their dream to work in aviation? If you succeeded, even in part, due to someone else's mentorship or coaching in the early years, have you made an effort to mentor someone else who may benefit from a friend in the industry? If your success in the aviation world today is due in part to the generosity of someone else, whether in the form of a scholarship, a mentor, a friend who offered you a place to stay or a supervisor who put in a good word for you, have you thought to pay it forward?

Pay it forward. You might just make someone's dream a reality. And the aviation industry will thank you.



Did you know that GlobalAir.com offers a scholarship? Track last year's scholarship recipients here, and stay tuned for more news on the 2015 scholarship winners!

Oshkosh: It's Not About the Airplanes


Okay, so maybe it's a little bit about the airplanes. (Did you see the Mosquito? The GoodYear Blimp?!) But for most people, Oshkosh is about so much more than airplanes. If you follow Oshkosh on social media then you've heard the buzz of engines during the airshow and you've seen your friends posting selfies in front of amazing airplanes. But what you can't see from the photos is something else that's deeper, more elusive, that only exists at Oshkosh. Maybe it's a feeling, or maybe it's just something in the air. It's probably different for everyone, but whatever it is, it's general aviation at its absolute best. Airplanes are just the backdrop. A friend (who I happened to meet at Oshkosh) said it best in this video when he said, "It feels like coming home."

So what is it that makes Oshkosh special? What is it that keeps thousands of aviation fanatics returning each year to a place that's not even easy to get to? It's about the people, the encouragement, the mentorship, the conversation and the camaraderie. It's about an industry that welcomes you into it without pause and allows you to consider it your home without even a hint of reservation. It's an immediate family where every single one of your sisters and brothers just "gets" you.

Over fifteen years ago, I entered the world of aviation by walking into a sleepy airport terminal in my hometown, completely on my own. I had been on a single plane ride before, and I knew I wanted to fly. There was just one problem: I didn't know how. I didn't have a mentor. I didn't have a family member to show me the ropes. I didn't know anyone in aviation. I didn't know where to go or what it would take to become a pilot.

I remember walking into that terminal, a nervous teenage girl, to ask about flight lessons. With a comforting smile and a gleam in his eye, the airport manager sent me across the field to the sleepy little flight school. The owner of the flight school, without asking me why a girl like me would possibly want to fly, without hesitating or commenting on my five-foot-nothing height, hired me on the spot as a secretary. I could answer the phones, he said, and he'd pay me six dollars per hour and let me sit in on the ground school for free. "It's a deal," I said.

What I didn't realize was that this deal would go far beyond six dollars per hour and free ground school. I didn't realize I was gaining an instant family. The flight instructors took me seriously, treated me with respect, and introduced me to the world of flying with enthusiasm and encouragement. Beyond that, each one of them shared their worlds with me outside of our flight lessons. They told me about air shows and scholarships and what airline life would be like. They taught me about the bigger, Part 135 aircraft they flew during their off time. On their days off, they came to the airport with their wives and kids. It felt like home.

Fast forward a few years, and I made another solo trek, this time to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I'd heard the stories, but wondered how it could be more than just another air show with expensive food. I'd seen enough air shows. I'd seen Tora! Tora! Tora! and P-51s and Sean Tucker and Kirby Chambliss. What would be different about AirVenture? I had to find out. I showed up at my room that year - a small bedroom in a lady's house that I booked on a referral from a journalist friend - and found a group of people who had been coming to Oshkosh for years together. But instead of sticking to their own group, they immediately took me in, inviting me to ride the bus with them and inviting me to their nightly dinners. And then I showed up to the media tent, once again by myself, and immediately found friendly faces there, too. I walked the grounds, and while running into old friends, I made even more new friends. One introduction led to another and before I knew it, I had new aviation family members all over the place. It felt like a family reunion - with a pretty spectacular air show on the side.

Last year, I made a few friends at Camp Scholler who have been camping together as a group for years. This year, I was invited to camp alongside them at what they lovingly refer to as "Camp Bacon." I showed up with my kids, but otherwise alone, without really knowing any of these folks beyond social media. As if on cue, they welcomed me - and my children - into their aviation family immediately. They offered good conversation, interesting aviation stories, hot coffee, and even wine. They invited me to the nightly campfire, and to join them during their yearly "Dawn Patrol" walk to the warbirds at five a.m. They shared their stories with me and I learned about their aviation work. By the end of the trip, there were hugs, with the sound of P-51 Merlin engines in the background. It felt like coming home.

This is my family.

This is Oshkosh.

Top 9 Things to do at AirVenture in 2015

  1. Test your drone flying skills with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Small Unmanned Aerospace System (sUAS) Challenge. The drone challenge will feature a 30-foot drone cage at Aviation Gateway Park, and will include both obstacle and speed courses designed for unmanned aerial vehicles. The competition will be held daily from 3 to 5 p.m. and is open to anyone age 10 and up. Or, for those who intend to bring a drone with them, a field next to Pioneer Airport will be designated for drone use. Small RC model aircraft (less than five pounds) may be used in the designated area from 7 to 9 p.m. every night.
  2. Visit the widely praised EAA AirVenture Museum to see more than 200 historic aircraft that are available for viewing. From the classic Piper Cub to the Spirit of St. Louis, EAA's AirVenture Museum has all of the best airplanes. From the museum, you can take a ride in a 1929 Ford Tri-Motor or a 1929 Travel Air E-4000. The museum also has four theaters and a special hands-on KidVenture area, and from May to October, you can take a short tram ride to Pioneer Airport and walk back in time through seven hangars that explore the 20s and 30s, aviation's Golden Age.
  3. Take your kids to Pioneer Airport, which is the place to be this year. From airplane and helicopter rides to drone flying to KidVenture, Pioneer Airport mixes old with new by introducing the next generation of aviation buffs to the aviation world in a variety of ways. Kids can complete a Future A&P course by visiting various booths and learning how to accomplish maintenance tasks like riveting or prop shaping. At the Young Eagles flight education area, future pilots can learn about airspace, lift and fly a flight simulator. Pedal planes are available for the youngest pilots, and older ones will enjoy a bit of history walking through the AirVenture Museum hangars.
  4. Watch the Valdez STOL aircraft show each other up. Each May, specially modified short takeoff and land (STOL) aircraft compete in a competition in Valdez, Alaska. More than a dozen of them will be at Oshkosh this year, and the competition is not to be missed. You can find them at the afternoon air shows, at the ultralight air strip and a final competition will happen prior to the night air show.
  5. If low-key is more your style, visit the Oshkosh Seaplane Base located at Lake Winnebago. Buses run from AirVenture to the Seaplane Base regularly, and beyond the weekly Watermelon Social event, it's a quiet respite from the crowds and heat.
  6. Celebrate the great moments of World War II. This is the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, the successful air war to defend England in the summer and autumn of 1940, forestall a planned invasion of the island by Germany, and the first major turning point of the war. This is the moment that Winston Churchill famously predicted, should it be successful, would be known as England’s "finest hour." Airshow themes celebrating this turning point in the European war throughout the week will include many of the 300 warbirds expected to attend Oshkosh, including a rare flying example of the de Havilland Mosquito fighter/bomber.
  7. Take a seat in a classic aircraft. In addition to the Ford Tri-Motor making its accustomed flights above the AirVenture Grounds, this year you can take a ride from nearby Appleton in the B-17 Flying Fortress Aluminum Overcast, one of the rare surviving examples of this heavy bomber that dropped more ordnance than any other Allied Bomber of World War II. The flights depart from nearby Appleton and a shuttle bus will depart the AirVenture grounds an hour before the flight.
  8. Join Burt Rutan for a week-long recognition of the 40th anniversary of his iconic early aircraft design, the VariEze. For four decades Burt Rutan has continuously broken the mold, creating one unusual aircraft design after another and popularizing concepts such as canard wings and composite construction, culminating for many with his design of SpaceShipOne, the first commercial space flight vehicle. Rutan will be at Oshkosh to share this celebration of his unparalleled history of innovation. His designs will be included in the Homebuilts in Review each morning at 10 and Rutan will be interviewed following at 1PM.
  9. Stop by the Globalair.com booth! Have we met before? Stop by and meet your hard-working GlobalAir team! We'll be in Hangar D, Booth 4028.

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