Our Guest Bloggers
Our guest bloggers, Brandon and Shawn, spend considerable time researching and preparing material for this publication. What do you think about their blog's? They are anxious to hear your comments, both positive and negative. They are also open to suggestions for future blog topics and are willing to answer questions from readers. Please take a few minutes to reach out to them. their email addresses appear below their respective blog heading graphic. of course, I would also like to know what you think of this publication in general and my blog in particular. My email address also appears below my blog heading graphic.
Syracuse, NY Safety Stand Down
If you are in range of Syracuse, New York, please consider joining me at the annual Safety Stand Down. It is an all-day event beginning at 8:30 AM. on Saturday, February 29. It is in the conference room of the main terminal building of KSYR. That sounds like a small, cramped room, but I assure you it is a large, very nice facility. My presentation, "Mental Inertia," is sponsored by the good folks at Avemco Insurance. For more information on the event and to register, click here.
More on Propeller Safety
In a recent blog post, I discussed ramp safety, particularly in regard to spinning propellers. A recent fatal accident suggests that we need to take the discussion a bit further. In July of 2018, a pilot was killed when he was struck by the propeller of his Cessna 182. What makes this accident different from the (unfortunately) more common propeller versus flesh and bone accident is that this pilot was performing a preflight inspection on his airplane with the ignition switch in the off position and the ignition switch key in his pocket. To learn more about this accident and my suggestions on how to avoid a similar situation, click here to read the accident analysis in the Accident Analysis section of my website.
On February 29, I will be premiering a completely new program titled "Mental Inertia." I will be presenting the program as part of the annual Syracuse Safety Stand Down as I described above.
After the Syracuse event, I will be making the program available for live on-site, webinar, and online presentation. In creating the aviation version of the course, I borrowed heavily from Bright Spot's "Being Better Program" in which we explore why and how our brains steer us toward completing a task, even when ample evidence exists to show that it would be best to modify or abandon our plan. Effective mitigation strategies are also presented.
The exact date is still TBA, but I will kick off the 2020 webinar series sometime in March with the new "Mental Inertia" program. I will send a special email message when dates and times are finalized.
New Online Course Coming in March
A new higher-level online course will be available beginning sometime in March. Most pilots possess an adequate understanding of the basics. But many pilots want to attain a bit higher level of learning that would make their flying not only safer, but actually more enjoyable. So, I created this program called "Pilots Finishing School." The intent is to provide pilots an opportunity to "up their game" with higher-level material that might never have been learned or may have been forgotten. The first edition of the program includes aerodynamics and aircraft performance. More information will be available soon.
An Interesting Approach to Help Prevent Loss-of-Control
An accident prevention colleague, Ed Wischmeyer, calls his concept Expanded Envelope Exercises (E3). Ed Believes, as do I, that many pilots have not experienced very much flying near the edges of the flight envelope. LOC may result when a pilot inadvertently approaches the edge of the flight envelope and does not respond correctly. Ed has designed exercises to help pilots get more comfortable flying outside of their comfort zone while remaining within the aircraft’s normal or utility envelope that is generally considered safe. For more information, Ed's concept was featured in AINonline.
Blinded by the Light
By Brandon Rettke
The Springsteen hit “Blinded by the Light,” pops into my head every time a pilot shoots their landing light in my face, or taxi’s by with their strobes flashing immediately before needing my night vision for takeoff or just before landing. I thought it would be good to share a few reminders for night/light etiquette and safety considerations. While not always possible due ATC instructions or operational need, consider the following while operating on the ground.
Navigation/Position Lights: Are to help other pilots identify which part of the aircraft they are seeing, and to determine relative position and movement. Remember your private instructor asking, “If you see a red light on your right and green on your left, which direction from you is the aircraft moving? At night, keep these on at all times.
Strobes: Also called anti-collision lights in the regs, scream “LOOK HERE, HERE I AM, HERE I AM”. Unless you are operating a Diamond or other aircraft without a red beacon light, these lights are not needed on the ground. They are highly distracting (which is the point in flight), and instantly destroy other’s night vision. Turn them on just prior to entering a runway.
1. When not on a runway, and while stopped for any reason, including: run-up, awaiting further ATC instruction, digging in your flight bag, shut you landing/taxi light off.
2. If you are stopped and someone else is taxing by or you are facing another aircraft on the opposite side of the active, look down or away from their lights.
3. If you’re at a less than busy airport with someone on short final, you can stop and shut off the lights until the aircraft passes you.
Remember, the Airplane Flying Handbook states, “About 30 minutes is needed to adjust the eyes to maximum efficiency after exposure to a bright light.” Consider this when operating your strobes and landing/taxi lights around other aircraft.
Light ‘em up on any runway:
In 1991, a USAir 737 landed on top of a SkyWest Metroliner in “position and hold” (now called “line up and wait”) during night operations at KLAX. One contributing factor was the SkyWest aircraft blending into the airport lights. In those days, landing lights and strobes were not normally turned on until aircraft were rolling for takeoff. We have rectified this issue in the commercial world by turning on all lights while on a runway regardless of the operation. Anytime you are on an active or inactive runway; for takeoff, for “lineup and wait” or even just crossing, turn on all lights to aid identification of your aircraft on the runway. I use the term “aid” deliberately here. Next time you get a chance to follow another aircraft landing at night, watch the plane disappear into the airport lighting.
Shawn Benson is a graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with a BS degree in Aviation Maintenance Management. He holds FAA certifications including A&P, IA, and Private Pilot. He has more than twenty-five years experience in the aviation industry including both airline and general aviation. (Yes, we are related. Shawn is my son and has agreed to share some practical aviation maintenance advice with us from time-to-time.) Shawn can be reached at ShawnBenson@comporium.net
Aircraft Batteries – Neglected and Abused
By: Shawn Benson
This month’s article is about lead acid batteries typically used in piston engine general aviation aircraft. Aircraft batteries are used to provide an electrical energy “reservoir” for the aircraft electrical system. They are designed to be compact with more capacity and less weight compared to automotive batteries. Aircraft batteries therefore are more delicate, need routine maintenance, and specific charging and discharging cycles to be able to provide electrical power when you need it.
The aircraft battery is used to provide an emergency power source, supplement the electrical system during high demand (like gear retraction) and start the aircraft engine. Lead acid batteries will discharge over time, especially in higher temperatures. Aircraft that do not fly regularly and/or make short flights put additional stress on the battery and the airframe electrical system. Newer avionics equipment (GPS/ADS-B) also have “keep alive” circuits connected directly to the battery.
Most of us find out we have a problem with the battery when the starter won’t turn the prop. What to do now? Many pilots and mechanics will want to either jump start or hand prop the engine because it appears to be the most expeditious way to stay on schedule. These methods can be dangerous and greatly reduce the margin for safety.
Jump Starting/Ground Power Unit starting is not wise in this situation. If you can get the engine started, the cause of the battery fault is not known and there is no way of knowing battery capacity or if the battery has been damaged due to discharge. In normal operations (with a known good battery), using a ground power unit to supplement the battery for aircraft starting is a best practice.
Do not hand prop. I realize that many aircraft do not even have an electrical system and hand propping is the only way to start the engine. It is a matter of training and safety. Hand propping many Continental engines can damage the engine. If you had an unsuccessful start of a Continental engine with a starter adapter using the starter, the start adapter clutch is mechanically engaged. If hand propped, the starter adapter clutch can remain engaged while the engine is running. The starter adapter will be damaged and contaminate the engine oil with metal.
Do not conduct night or IMC flights if your battery capacity is not known. It takes at least 3 hours for an aircraft battery to recharge using the aircraft electrical system. Charging the battery in this manner also puts addition stress on the battery and other more expensive electrical components and the battery capacity is still not known.
The only good option once the battery is deeply discharged is to obtain a known good battery. This can be accomplished by either charging the existing battery, having the battery capacity tested, and then recharging the battery for service. This is time consuming and expensive. In most cases a replacement battery can be sourced in less time.
Don’t be tempted to put the battery on a charger or connect to another battery for a few hours to get the airplane started. You still do not know the capacity of the battery. Always use an aircraft battery charger. Using an automotive style charger can damage and reduce the life of an aircraft battery. The plates in aircraft batteries are very thin compared to other battery types. Aircraft lead acid batteries are typically charged using constant potential (voltage) chargers.
I cannot stress this enough. Know the electrical system of the aircraft you are flying or maintaining. As more aircraft are modified with more electronic instruments, and additional alternators etc. you can easily be lured into a false sense of security. Depending on the aircraft, the “second” electrical system may not be able to handle all the electrical demand. Know how to isolate and reduce electrical demand in a “glass” panel.
As a pilot, servicing and replacing the main aircraft battery is considered preventative maintenance. Here are some tips for preventing the “dead” battery scenario:
- At least annually, verify that the battery capacity test was conducted. Not all maintenance providers conduct battery capacity tests, especially on smaller aircraft. Checking battery voltage is not an indicator of capacity. If operating IFR, battery capacity is extremely important, especially with all electric aircraft.
- If operating a flooded lead acid battery, regularly check electrolyte levels and recharge after servicing.
- Keep the battery on an aircraft battery maintainer. This greatly improves service life of the battery and gives the battery the best chance of maintaining capacity during service.
- Protect the battery from extreme temperatures. For example, if you are traveling and overnighting in a cold climate and must leave in the morning, remove the battery from the aircraft and keep in a climate-controlled environment overnight. Batteries provide more “cranking” at typical room temperature. If the battery is cold, at least put a small load on the battery like aircraft lights before attempting to start the engine (this is harder in an LED world). Putting a small load on the battery first will internally start to warm the battery due to chemical reaction and thus provide more starting energy.
Before performing any preventative maintenance, get trained on the proper techniques and follow the instructions provided by the battery manufacturer and the airframe manufacturer.
Aircraft batteries are routinely neglected and abused in service usually due to the human factor of “lack of knowledge.” A small amount of preventative maintenance will greatly improve service life and reliability. Some additional flight planning and logistics when travelling can also make sure the engine starts in the morning.
Focus – Sometimes Not Our Friend
Many of you know that I have written much about the myth of multitasking. The myth attempts to contradict the simple fact that our brains are incapable of multitasking. We can attend to only one thing at a time. Our brains do a remarkable job of rapidly switching from one thing to another and that often gives the illusion of multitasking. But that is precisely what it is – an illusion.
Our brains can handle the switching among multiple tasks to a point before things begin to unravel. Where that unravel point lies depends on the number of tasks, the complexity of the individual tasks, and our competency in performing them. As we approach that unravel point, commonly called task saturation, our brains try to protect us by prioritizing the tasks. We will then begin to focus more on what our brains have identified as the highest priority tasks. The prioritizing is done in the unconscious mind. It is usually spot-on but sometimes it may not be correct for the current situation.
Take a non-aviation example. A person is driving to work in morning traffic. An important meeting is scheduled to begin just about the time the person plans to arrive at the office. The driver has just left the drive-through of a coffee shop with a large hot beverage. The driver hears a siren and notices an ambulance approaching from the rear. While attempting to pull over to the right shoulder of the road, another car pulls up on the right, blocking access to the shoulder. Our driver notices that the ambulance is approaching rapidly and has no lane available to pass. The driver attempts to speed up just as the car that was on the right pulls quickly into the lane in front of our driver, causing our driver to brake to avoid a collision. The cup containing the hot beverage slips and half the contents spill into the driver’s lap.
The driver’s brain, approaching task saturation, must prioritize the tasks now presented to it. The brain knows about the traffic situation and about the many tasks associated with avoiding a collision and clearing a path for the ambulance. But it also knows about the important meeting ahead and all the implications of not looking confident and in control. The various facets of the meeting have been flying through the brain for several days. The traffic situation is new and unexpected. The unconscious mind prioritizes the brain’s focus to the spilled drink, the soaked clothing, and a need to look good for the meeting. Our driver’s attention is directed to the spill and away from the traffic situation. The driver’s attention is brought back too late as the sound of bending metal and the loud pop of an airbag deploying is heard.
We all know rationally that the driver should have focused on driving until it was safe to deal with the spill. But when the brain approaches task saturation and decides to prioritize, that prioritization might be flawed.
When the brain focuses on what it has determined to be the highest priority task, it has the ability to completely ignore ancillary inputs. We may not see something that is well within our field of vision. We may not hear a sound that is well within our range of hearing. The brain recognizes that it cannot keep up with all the tasks presented to it, so it may lock on to one or two tasks and block sensory inputs that it deems ancillary to the chosen tasks.
The aviation implications of this are significant. There are many examples of interviews with accident pilots who tell of not hearing a stall warning or landing gear warning, but the system operated correctly when tested after the accident. There are pilots who reported not seeing a zero oil pressure reading though they stated that they had frequently scanned the engine gages. A few of these pilots may not be telling the truth, but research shows that most of them probably are being honest. They really did not perceive the indication.
This focus effect, sometimes called anchoring, is not easy to avoid or overcome. But there are some tools that can help. Our brains can be trained to focus on the right things when we approach task saturation. The goal is to train the brain to correctly prioritize the tasks. This kind of training is best done in a simulator with a good flight instructor. The instructor can provide scenarios with increasing complexity that require the pilot to focus on flying the airplane regardless of what else is happening. In the absence of a simulator or even an instructor, gains can be made by discussing various scenarios with other pilots. An hour group discussion on a non-flyable day can produce some valuable learning. And finally, reading accident reports and really thinking about what was going on in the pilot’s mind can be helpful.
We spend considerable time and money on building our stick and rudder skills. Let’s put some effort into building our mental skills also.
Accidents discussed in this section are presented in the hope that pilots can learn from the mistakes of others and perhaps avoid repeating those mistakes. It is easy to read an accident report and dismiss the cause as carelessness or a dumb mistake. But let's remember that the accident pilot did not get up in the morning and say, "Gee, I think I'll go have an accident today." Nearly all pilots believe that they are safe. Honest introspection frequently reveals that on some occasion, we might have traveled down that same accident path.
Cirrus SR22 Task Saturation
The NTSB report includes the following: "
"The private pilot was conducting a personal, cross-country flight with one passenger onboard. According to air traffic control (ATC) communications and radar data, while en route to the destination airport about 5,425 ft mean sea level, the pilot reported to ATC that the airplane was accumulating ice, and he requested to divert to the nearest airport. However, due to the overcast cloud layer at 200 ft above ground level (agl) at the nearest airport, the pilot chose to attempt an instrument landing system (ILS) approach into another airport with a slightly higher overcast cloud layer of 500 ft agl. Read more...
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