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Loss of Control Again

Statistics continue to demonstrate that this is GA’s biggest killer by far and we desperately need to find a solution. Some useful thinking and some good ideas from various sources are set out here.

Regular readers may wonder why this magazine turns once again to the already copiously aired subject of Loss Of Control in flight (LoC-I) and the reason is readily to be seen in the EASA bar chart displayed below. EASA is keenly aware, as we are at GASCo, that LOC-I forms the major proportion of all GA accidents. If we could get close to eliminating these accidents we should have reduced the scale of serious injuries and fatalities in GA by about half. To quote from
an EASA paper on LoC-I in GA: 

How important is LOC-I risk in GA?

Loss of Control In-flight is the most frequent and most deadly type of accident in GA.

There are approximatively 37 fatal LOC-I accidents per year in Europe leading to 67 persons on average losing their lives  every year due to LOC-I (for fixed-wing aircraft only), and take-off and landing phase are particularly risky. 

So, at the risk of boring our readership with repetition, your editor feels duty bound to bring some more thoughts by a variety of experts to your attention. There is some important new thinking on this age old subject.

Dan Gryder’s post

The most compelling piece that I have seen recently on this subject was a posting on Facebook by Dan Gryder, an instructor in the USA. I thank Gerry Humphreys for bringing it to my attention and Dan for allowing me to quote from it extensively. He wrote:

"It is so hard to believe that it has  been 16 years ago since Brock’s accident. This is one that lives with me every day, on every flight. Brock was a fine young man that truly had the aviation bug. I had soloed him, gotten him his private, then instrument, and then commercial ratings. He was a family friend and spent a lot of time at our house, playing with the boys who were 1 and 4 at the time. He was always digging deeper into airplanes, and how to be a better pilot. He had goals and dreams like any other kid. He often talked about being able to fly someday for a mission organization, or a relief effort. There was never any mention of flying so that he could get a high paying job. That wasn’t Brock. Brock had gone on with his flying and had quite a lot of flight time, somewhere around 400 hours when this accident happened. Surely more than enough to be able to give a simple airplane ride to two friends, day VFR, perfect weather, and a long paved runway in a Cessna 172.

That morning at about 9.30 am my phone rang… I quickly learned that the 172 was down, just off the departure end of runway 31 at Falcoln Field. [Reports of previous engine trouble with this aircraft] along with witness accounts explained that he had a loss of thrust on takeoff, but the mystery of what happened next that day would take years to unravel. But I did unravel it. As it turns out, we are all human beings, built with the same fears, reactions, emotions, and instincts. It took several hundred simulations in my own airplanes to conclusively PROVE that the average pilot, given the same scenario (on takeoff, at climb speed, and being generally unsuspecting) would actually pull hard on the yoke during the first three seconds following an engine failure. WHAT? Why? Because that is the way you are wired. My routine was to turn off the fuel valve at 300 feet, after having explained that this is a normal flight, then wait the required 20 seconds for the engine to starve and quit, and watch (and video) the reaction.

Amazing. Everyone freezes in shock, but ultimately PULLS on the yoke. I continued this wherever possible, always leaving myself an out in the form of a farmer’s field below just in case my own self induced engine failure was not followed by the restoration of full power. In a majority of cases, direct intervention was required of me to keep us from stall/ spin at this low altitude. The amount of time from LOTOT [Loss of Thrust on Take off] to SPIN is between 5 and 9 seconds, depending on the airplane, and how hard the pilot pulls.

Eventually I began to pay closer attention to other similar GA day VMC single engine fatal accidents. What do they ALL have in common? That we are all being piloted by a human, that was not “EXPECTING” a LOTOT at this low altitude. It was the “lack of expectation” that was the key. These pilots and their unsuspecting passengers are in essence being killed by an overall lack of awareness, and lack of planning for this very likely scenario. In the years that followed my aviation friends that had the capability to help with this did just that, and pushed for a change in the initial pilot training requirements [in the USA] that at least attempted to address this scenario that today is still the   HIGHEST   CATEGORY  FATAL ACCIDENT CAUSE for single engine planes! Julie Filucci, Doug Stewart, and many more were involved in steering the new training requirements which became effective in July of this year. Here is the exact wording out of the new [requirement] that is now mandatory for each new pilot: 


You see, it’s not that the scenario isn’t easy to overcome, it’s the fact that your average pilot is totally “not ready”, and has not planned for this, should they encounter LOTOT during this phase. We could easily wipe this entire scenario out and literally save hundreds of lives and airplanes annually with more awareness, and a new mindset: Here is what I teach: “ON TAKEOFF, I AM GOING TO LOSE THE ENGINE. WHEN I DO, I WILL SAY THERE IT IS, PUSH.” If a pilot will rehearse this prior to each takeoff, and be totally “expecting” it like we do, there is no reason to ever see a stall/spin takeoff accident again".

The Angle of Attack remedy

Currently in the USA a lot of emphasis is being applied to the fitting of Angle of Attack (AoA) indicators. All feature an instrument intended to be fixed on top of the instrument panel with some sort of indication as to whether the current angle of attack is well within limits or not. Some of them also offer a voice warning of increasing intensity as the AoA nears the danger point. To facilitate fitting these devices, the US FAA is offering generic modification  approval, which  virtually eliminates costly individual modification approvals. EASA has also fallen into line here.

There are, however, two doubts often expressed about the efficacy of these devices. Some argue that the conventional stall warner buzzer and flashing light does pretty much the same as these AoA indicators and we know from experience that pilots under stress tend to ignore such warnings and give full priority to matters that seem at the time to be more important. Pulling back on the yoke or getting out a MAYDAY call can sometimes seem an absolute priority to somebody startled and stressed in spite of these actions being obviously inappropriate when considered in less startled and stressed circumstances.

The other objection is price. At something around £2,000 including fitting it seems unlikely that many owners will fit these devices unless they become mandatory and that is unlikely to happen unless evidence from fairly widespread use emerges that proves their effectiveness. Some new aircraft may well sport AoA devices but it will take a long time for these to become common so that a body of evidence can be assembled. Meanwhile the existing fleet is likely to continue with its stall warners and we already know that these are of limited effectiveness. For non certified aircraft, however, there is a much cheaper alternative in the SmartASS device which is available for £175 and can be fitted by the owner under the supervision of his/her appropriate aviation organisation. If there is a reasonable take up of these we may find a quicker route to establishing their effectiveness. However, most non certified aircraft are not fitted with stall warners so a comparison between the SmartASS and the conventional stall warner will still not be possible.


Two other remedies

The American FAA in Fly Safe: Prevent Loss of Control Accidents news/ offers this advice: 

"What can GA pilots do to best manage an unexpected event?

Don’t let an unexpected event become an expected emergency! Training and preparation can help pilots manage the startle response and effectively cope with an unexpected event. 

Tip for pilots

Think about abnormal events ahead of time! Practise your plan! Brief your plan prior to takeoff, even when flying solo!

Richard Collins, doyen of US pilots, looks at LoC-I on take off in Air Facts Journal of May 2016. The article is headed TAKEOFF: THE RISKIEST THREE MINUTES and sub headed, But a 30 second reflection can sure help".

Richard explains: 

"Takeoffs are wonderful maneuvers and I never failed to think of it as pure magic when the weight of the airplane shifted from the ground to the wings. It’s still the same airplane but when it flies it comes alive.

That’s the happy part of taking off. What comes next is a period of flight with few options and where any problem can quickly become a serious problem.   One source I looked at indicated that ten percent of the fatal accidents happen on takeoff. Because the period of time is short relative to the rest of the flight, this suggests that the risk is quite high. Many or most of the things that lead to trouble in the first three minutes of flight can be anticipated and that is why it is important not to rush through the pre-flight work".

He argues for reducing the chances of power loss occurring during this critical phase by being super careful in your pre flight and your engine run up.

How about the UK?

I turned to Mike Beeston, a UK Flight Examiner with US experience as well, and inquired whether current PPL training in the UK includes any sort of a self brief before take off, and if so, what? I explained that for power flying I was first introduced to the Captain’s Brief in the 1980s when doing my IR training but nothing similar ever formed part of my RAF wings training in the 1950s nor my subsequent PPL training in the 1970s.

Mike has been a professional pilot and flight instructor for the last 30 years, mainly in the UK holding both Head of Training and CFI posts and teaching CPL, IR and Flight Instructor courses. He currently flies the Cessna F406 Twin Caravan for Airtask Group, as an airborne radar asset for both UK fisheries protection and weapons range clearance duties, as well as holding a UK Flight Examiner Certificate, conducting tests on behalf of the CAA for the CPL, initial IR and FI. As a Senior Flight Examiner he assesses other Flight Examiners.

He replied: 

"As both a Head of Training and a CFI during my flying career I have always insisted that a Take-off brief be learned and given prior to every training flight and test for all courses, there is no standard brief because conditions change constantly, and in the Outer Hebrides just wait 5 minutes – trust me.

A Flight Examiner will want a brief from the pilot because this communication of proposed actions is important for the safety of all concerned and will avoid confusion. The Examiner may also give a briefing to confirm the actions taken by both front seat occupants. This is an example of my own self brief for a single engine / single pilot aeroplane:

In the unlikely event of an engine failure or any other emergency or event occurring on the take-off roll, I will close the throttle, maintain direction with rudder and stop, vacating the runway if possible (and state the conditions, runway available and whether maximum braking is possible/ advisable). In the event of a fire with a wind of X I shall attempt to position the nose to Y to avoid smoke hindering our exit.

After rotation and with suitable runway available I shall lower the nose to maintain airspeed, apply full flap and land back on and apply braking as required (state if max braking is advisable)

If no runway is available I shall lower the nose, maintain a speed of X, select a suitable field ahead and perform a forced landing using flaps as appropriate.

For any other event I will fly a circuit (state which direction) and land back on (state runway) I shall inform ATC as soon as practicable.

(To other occupant/s) I will ask you to tighten your harness, open the door as briefed and adopt the brace position.

Do you have any questions?

Regarding the one hour flight with an instructor during the second year of the SEP validity period if revalidation by experience is the choice, when it was first introduced under JAR I received questions of its purpose, did it follow the lines of the FAA Biennial Flight Review (BFR), is it a test? Well it’s not a test first and foremost. It is a training flight designed to be of some benefit to the recipient, during which elements of what was referred to as the Safety Module were performed. It is a check of the pilots continued ability to deal with emergencies and other items, for example a steep turn, a stall recovery, a PFL and the EFATO. If some instruction is required then it shall be offered in the interests of safety.

Before JAR it was the case that once obtaining a PPL, the pilot might fly and revalidate  the  SEP  time after time without ever flying with an instructor or an examiner ever again, particularly where the pilot was an owner/pilot. It was basically, fly 5 hours in 13 months and get your logbook stamped. So with the introduction of JAR the revalidation requirements were altered to include what is now referred to as the biennial. At least the intent is good; it’s just a case of whether in reality the flight is still conducted along the lines as originally intended. So it’s back to the CFI again and the quality of Standards Training of instructors within the individual ATOs.

EFATO training is deeply rooted in UK training philosophy and hopefully will continue to be for many years. It is surely a good move on the part of the FAA to adopt a similar take on it".

Back at GASCo your editor concludes from these investigations that the best UK practice includes a proper, spoken self brief. What he is left wondering is whether this is actually taught at all flying schools and always insisted upon during the one hour flight with an instructor. Reports from readers at the coal face would be welcome.

Nigel Everett

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