Originally published on Fightersweep.com, August 2016, by Nate Jaros
It was a cold winter night over Iraq. It was 2003 and OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) was in full swing and US fighter aircraft were getting used to their regular un-impeded patrols over the country. Operation Southern Watch and Operation Northern Watch had recently ended and “Shock-and-Awe” was completed earlier that March as well.
All of Iraq was our playground.
At the time, just two fighters, and a tanker were the only things airborne, 24/7 over the war-stricken country. And maybe a few UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) too. Air operations were slow actually, and modern airpower was more of a presence than an active participant…
We were with the 510th Fighter Squadron, out of Aviano, Italy. The Balkan Buzzards as we were sometimes called, but more commonly known in the Viper community as just “The Buzzards.”
Our whole squadron and 20+ jets were deployed to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, and was supporting OIF as well as OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom) with daily and nightly two-ship sorties. A squadron of F-15E Strike Eagles was also with us, and we each alternated VUL (vulnerability) times over Iraq to maintain this 24/7 coverage.
Every four or five hours, a two-ship of Vipers or Mud Hens would launch from “The Deid,” head north along the Persian Gulf. The flight (two-ship) would get gas entering Iraq and proceed to their assigned tasking, while also relieving the other squadron that was finishing their business over the country after a five hour long sortie.
We typically had missiles (both long and short range) on board as well as an assortment of 500 pound LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) and GPS guided JDAMs (Joint Directed Attack Munition). We were a Block 40 F-16 squadron and also carried our primary “tool” the LANTIRN Targeting Pod. The Targeting Pod was an Infra-Red telescope basically that was cockpit controllable, and had a laser designator for LGBs.
On this night, I was the flight lead with my young but combat-proven wingman “Chaos” on the wing. Chaos and I were paired by the squadron leadership, and enjoyed flying together every other night or so.
Leadership kept most flight leads and wingman paired over the course of the four month deployment to help build solid and reliable two-ship teams. Keeping guys paired together really helped reduce errors and develop a sense of camaraderie as well as professional in-flight synergy. Chaos knew what to expect out of me, and I knew what to expect out of him.
On a typical mission we would have three or four taskings across Iraq. We would maybe have an hour with a JTAC (Joint Terminal Air Controller) providing high cover for ground forces doing building searches. We would then move on to oil and gas pipeline patrols, or maybe an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) road scanning tasking, or even Army convoy support. We typically had lots to do in one mission.
The Threat of IED’s
During this timeframe the IED’s were getting so bad across Iraq that they were an expected daily threat. Finding “bad guys” digging along road sides was quite common. “In August and September 2003, IEDs were responsible for more U.S. combat fatalities than the combined totals for direct fire weapons (small arms and rocket-propelled grenades [RPGs]) and indirect fire, the methods that had, historically, caused the majority of battle casualties” (Smith, 2011).
Chaos and I had come off the tanker and were proceeding to North-Central Iraq. It was just a 15 to 20 minute transition as the tanker was orbiting nearby. Below us was a heavy cloud deck and seeing anything on the ground with our eyes, NVGs, or the “pod” was impossible. As we passed over various cities this dark night, glowing amber-yellow city lights lit up the low clouds below us and cast an odd eerie feel to the solid cloud deck.
We were assigned to convoy support for a line of Army vehicles near Bayji and Tikrit traveling south toward Samarra along the major North-South road that went from Mosul in Northern Iraq to Baghdad.
Army Convoy in Trouble
I recall checking in with the convoy commander on time, on the designated freq as they began their slow and nervous drive south. We reported that we couldn’t see them for the weather, but would support in any way possible from high above. We had their coordinates and with updates we could track their position and be ready to assist if needed.
We circled above their position, like buzzards, in the dark and cold night with nothing to look at but softly-lit orange clouds below.
I don’t remember any hostilities initially, but the convoy commander soon became loud and concerned about something. His voice changed a few octaves and we heard him halt the convoy. We heard him coordinating a lot of actions and activity as well. Something was happening below us.
It was typical for IEDs to be rigged for timed detonation, while others would detonate actively when a ‘bad guy’ typically hidden somewhere pressed his detonator switch at the appropriate time. Some IEDs could detonate automatically when they sensed a vehicle or a large movement, or noise…but those were rarer as they required more technology. In 2003 the enemy was just looking for ways to easily disrupt or kill our ground forces, and they were good at it.
The convoy commander indicated over the radio that they had some suspicious activity and personnel ahead, as well as intelligence reports that IED planters and enemy were all along this route near them, placing their deadly weapons and waiting. He informed Chaos and I that they had reason to believe there were IEDs a few miles ahead, due to the skeptical roadside activity they were witnessing.
Calling us in for immediate weapons effects was not typical.
With no way to truly know if the people in the fields and roadside ahead were friendly civilians, kids playing, or bad guys, and no way to tell if that box on the side of the road was a bomb or just junk—there wasn’t much we could do at times. We could spend weeks bombing along roadsides and just waste a lot of weapons. Use of force was atypical for this type of problem.
The Show-of-Force Tactic
The preferred tactic was called a Show-of-Force (SoF). The Show-of-Force was akin to a shot across the bow, as they say. Basically it was one step before the use of actual force, and it was appropriate near certain high collateral damage areas.
In any fighter, a SoF equalled “be as loud, visible, and aggressively postured as possible.” A low pass with the ear shattering afterburner engaged was the preferred method. Additionally, intelligence reports told us that most enemy combatants would drop their weapons, detonate their IEDs, and simply run in the presence of any US aircraft. We used that fact to our advantage.
The commander requested a SoF from our two-ship, north to south, a single pass each. Somehow Chaos and I got below the weather and I remember emerging from the soup at about two or three thousand feet above the dark desert, with a clear, serpentine, well-lit road carving through the desert visible to the East…and on it were the tiny dots of a convoy, holding its position.
Getting low in a combat situation has the effect of heightening the senses. Not only was it dark and the unforgiving desert a real threat (from hitting it), but they had people down there that liked to shoot back. Anything below about 5,000 feet above ground level really got you on edge. Above that, there were no threats. Speed (and lights off) was life down low. NVGs kept you sane because at least you could see.
With clearance from the commander, we reported five miles to the north for the SoF. I went in first with Chaos offset and about two miles in trail. I lowered the nose toward the road as I aligned, and offset a bit to the right, on the west side. I would take the road down my left side, as fast as I could.
Accelerating through 300 knots, now lower, then 400 knots… I came overtop the convoy and plugged in the afterburner. The jet lurched forward as if kicked in the ass and I watched the fuel flow climb through 40,000 pph (pounds per hour) while the airspeed slipped past 500 knots. The road and earth was not far below me and screaming past at an incredible rate.
Then I saw the flashes.
Were they shooting? No those flashes were too big and bright. Did Chaos get hit I thought? No I could see his burner plume back there, following me and repeating my flightpath on the other side of the road.
Those were IEDs going off! One flash, two flash, then another!
Huge explosions flashed in the night, lighting up the atmosphere and casting strange flashbulb effects on the low clouds above us. Yet we could hear nothing. It was quiet in the cockpit, nothing to hear but the sound of cooling air flowing and the visual spectacle of the serpentine lit road passing extremely fast below. But down below, it must have looked like the 4th of July to the troops in the convoy.
We terminated afterburner approaching the Mach and became instantly invisible again. Over the inter-flight radio freq I told Chaos I was climbing back into the weather and headed for clear air. He followed and we quickly rejoined up above the weather, slowing our fire-breathing machines in the relative safety of altitude.
Our time was up and by now gas was getting low as well. “That ought to do it” the convoy Commander’s voice crackled on the radio, clear happiness and relief audible in his voice.
We were set for one more tanker and then the long drive home down the Gulf back to Al Udeid. We checked out with the convoy commander and he had a few words of praise and thanks. It seemed that our SoF scared off enough bad guys and caused a few others to hit their detonators and run back into the deserts and towns nearby. Those Army boys would be safe tonight on their long slow drive. Pretty cool.
We reflected on the sortie as the pink sun rose over the dusty gulf on our way back home. I still can’t imagine the courage it would take to drive a vehicle in a war zone, knowing that any second it could just explode.
We were glad to have helped, if even just a little… and with all our weapons still on board.
Here's a free look at the opening for my book!
"I learned the discipline of flying in order to have the freedom of flight....Discipline prevents crashes."
- Captain John Cook, British Airways, Concorde Pilot
General Aviation (GA) aircraft accidents kill hundreds of people every year. These crashes and fatalities have always been a source of much discussion, and a source of much study. Amidst all of the statistic and analysis, engine power loss and mechanical failure mishaps continue to be a leading cause of fatal accidents in General Aviation. In fact, engine loss accidents are the number one cause of crashes not later deemed as “pilot error.”
How can we better prepare pilots for these types of failures, the types of failures that are out of their control and in which no one can see coming? With this book, and some training, I aim to help you become a more informed and safer pilot. You will be armed with the tactics to defeat the engine loss situation in your single engine aircraft, and survive.
A fact sheet issued by the FAA in 2014 stated that powerplant system component failure was the third leading cause for all General Aviation fatalities for the decade 2001 – 2011 (FAA Fact Sheet, 30 Jul 2014). Only loss of control inflight and controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) have a higher fatality rate.
Why are engine loss accidents and fatality rates so high? Are not all pilots well trained and well versed in handling emergencies, especially with an emergency as significant as losing an engine? Loss of an engine inflight is a significant event, a serious emergency, especially for a single engine airplane. Interestingly enough, while not totally avoidable, and certainly unpredictable, this emergency is one that can have a catastrophic outcome or a totally safe outcome. There are people who have lost their engine in General Aviation single engine aircraft, and are still here to talk about it. Yet there are also incredible statistics of fatalities for the same. Why are there such polar opposites regarding this particular emergency procedure?
According to the FAA, an Advisory Circular issued 15 Jun 1998 on reciprocating engine power-loss accident prevention and trend monitoring disclosed that the overall trend of engine loss accidents had basically remained the same as that of the 1960s. Of 1,007 engine related accidents reviewed from 1994 through 1996 “518 or 51% of the accidents were attributed to pilot error, such as poor [engine] preflight planning, inspection, or improper use of engine controls. 302 accidents or 30% were attributed to mechanical failure such as valve or cylinder failure, and the remaining 187 accidents or 19% were attributed to improper [engine] maintenance and/or inspection of the aircraft” (FAA AC 20-105B, Jun 1998). I’d also like to emphasize here that the above 51% includes fuel starvation and fuel mismanagement incidents as well.
Let me reiterate the above quotation. In over 1,000 engine failure accidents in a three year timeframe, every one of them resulted in some kind of engine-out situation and possibly subsequent bending of metal or bruising of egos!
I’d like to think that I (or you) as professional and conscientious pilots could eliminate just about all of those accident variables by fueling correctly, preflighting correctly, and having excellent engine maintenance and care of any airplane we fly. Obviously, all of these dangers are not totally escapable or avoidable, especially for the rental fleet. However I would like to think that they are, and that I personally could catch and stop an imminent engine emergency by conducting better preflighting and fueling operations. Additionally, with some of today’s engine analyzers and avionics, it is quite possible to catch “telltale” signs of impending engine trouble, or at least the trends in engine performance if one is diligent with his or her engine data downloads. There are tools and methods available to today’s pilot that can increase one’s engine health knowledge a fair amount. Theoretically, engine loss events could be a thing of the past. This is plausible, yet engine failures and accidents continue to occur every day.
Are pilots becoming safer? The Air Safety Institute reported in 2014 that total General Aviation accidents (of all types) in 2013 fell “by an unprecedented 18% from the year before, dropping below 1,000 for the first time. This improvement continued with a further 3% decrease to an all-time low of 923 in 2014” (ASI Scorecard, 2014). They also confirmed that these rates were not due to a decrease in flight activity.
So things might be improving from the “dark days” of the late-nineties. We also find that recently, 2011 was one of the safest years on record. “Documented mechanical failures or errors in aircraft maintenance caused 12% of all non-commercial fixed-wing accidents in 2011, including 7% of the fatal accidents. Both figures were at or near historic lows: The total of 147 [aircraft mechanical failures] was the smallest in the modern era, while 15 fatal accidents is just one more than the record [low] of 14 set in 2005” (Nall Report, 2011).
Are things trending toward recovery for overall GA safety? Perhaps. The fact still remains that pilots can unexpectedly lose their engine inflight, and there is nothing anyone can do about that. Historical statistics say that about 25-30% of the engine related accidents were just pure mechanical failures. Or as we sometimes like to say “the hatch just blew!” Of that 25-30% pure mechanical failure rate, there is nothing that you, or a CFI, or even Bob Hoover could have done about it had they been in the air that day. It just wasn’t their day and the engine was going to fail no matter what was done in the preflight, fueling, or the maintenance beforehand. That is a pretty scary statistic if you ask me.
A recent independent study done by Cirrus Aircraft enthusiast and operator Mr. Joe Kirby looked at just Cirrus SR-22 and Bonanza A/G36 accidents from January 2010 through December 2014. He carefully went through the NTSB database and created his own incredible spreadsheet (available on the Engine Out webpage) which detailed every SR-22 and Bonanza 36 accident and its cause during that four year span. For these two specific airframes, over the specified timeframe, Mr. Kirby found that the number of engine mechanical failures were similar for both aircraft. He discovered that for each aircraft about 20% of the accidents were caused by pure mechanical engine failure (personal communication, March 2016). Interestingly, he also found nearly identical results to the above FAA Fact Sheet with regards to pilot loss of control and impact into terrain.
Of note, Mr. Kirby found fuel mismanagement statistics were markedly higher in Bonanza aircraft and accounted for nearly 24% of accidents, while Cirrus fuel mismanagement statistics accounted for just 4% of accidents for that aircraft. Generally speaking, fuel mismanagement accident statistics have decreased across the fleet from 8% of all GA accidents in 2002, to 5% of all accident caused in 2012 (Nall Reports, 2013 & 2003).
But enough statistics for now, let us change gears for a minute and talk about something related, the engine out emergency.
If you are like most pilots, you have received what you probably perceive as an adequate level of engine out training in your GA single engine aircraft. In my opinion, this engine loss training as well as the level of understanding for a majority of GA pilots and CFIs is severely lacking. Why do I say that?
It wasn’t until I completed USAF pilot training and attained over 2,000 hours in fighters and fighter-type aircraft that I realized the extreme difference between GA and the military with regards to emergency training and specifically, engine out training. I am not saying that all CFIs are cowboys and cavalier about this type of schooling. I’m also not implying that all GA pilots are unskilled in this area. Many GA pilots are highly competent, but unfortunately, that is not always the case. Airplanes continue to lose engines and people still lose lives every week due to crashes following engine power loss. I know that most CFIs do happen to teach some kind of engine out training, however, I will offer that this training is grossly inadequate, and the average GA pilot’s currency (i.e., practice) in engine out training is just as equally underwhelming.
Most of my GA engine out training (back in the day!) was simply the CFI pulling my throttle to idle and then instructing me on how to find a landing spot and what was the best glide speed for whatever aircraft we were training in that day. Seldom did we ever address restarts, checklists procedures, Critical Action Procedures (CAPs), or the more advanced thoughts on energy management, drag management, sight pictures and touchdown planning. I believe the average GA student and certainly the private or commercial single engine pilot needs to know some of these key concepts.
Additionally, when was the last time your CFI asked you to go practice engine out procedures? Most of mine never really did, or do. If you are practicing engine out procedures today, good on ya! If you are a CFI, are you teaching these advanced concepts? Or are you just pulling the throttle, announcing “engine failure” and then doing a simple glide to some point on the earth with little or no further discussion with your student?
What about this, does the following drill sound familiar? Maybe you had a CFI “kill your engine” on a recent BFR or a checkout of some kind. “Now pick a landing site,” he or she said. You diligently found a field or some road during the “procedure” and executed a glide to it with a go around as you neared the open field. You managed to make it to the field and execute a go around. You felt pretty good about that actually. Success! you think to yourself; you have been trained in engine out procedures! Easy as lemon pie right?
Well, no not really, I am being sarcastic. What I hope to impart upon you is not the inadequacies of your CFI and the training you received, but instead point out where some of that training has fallen short, and what all GA pilots need to be prepared for while instilling a further sense of the knowledge and factors that all contribute to a successful engine out scenario and a successful recovery. Unfortunately, most GA engine out training is deficient and lacking some of the basics that every pilot needs. Simply pulling the throttle to idle and holding best glide speed will not be ample practice for most GA pilots, especially new or inexperienced pilots, and maybe for some of our more seasoned flyers too. There is so much more to engine loss training.
As an ex-military fighter pilot, I recall the incredible amount of training I went through in my single engine airplane to prepare me for all kinds of emergencies, and especially the engine out situation. Not only did we learn and prepare for losing our one-and-only engine in the aircraft, but we regularly continued to train for losing that engine as well. And we even had an “ace up our sleeve” ...the ejection seat! If things really got bad, well the ole ejection seat was always there to save us from certain doom...right? Even so, we trained heavily for the engine out situation and even had to demonstrate one all the way to the landing flare during our recurring check rides.
In fighters, we also maintained a currency for practice engine out scenarios. One a month minimum to be exact, or twelve a year was the minimum number to have logged “in the books.” We also had a 90-day currency. What that means is that every pilot was required to go out and actually practice an engine out profile at those intervals. Failure to do so or to meet that required currency would lead to additional training with an instructor pilot and could also even ground the individual if he or she was significantly overdue. We took engine out practice very seriously...and the USAF did as well. These currencies and training rules were heavily documented and described in various regulations and paper guidance that we were required to follow.
This book is designed from a fighter pilot’s view of engine out training. I am not attempting to offer a military-like training regimen for GA pilots, nor am I suggesting that all GA pilots “fit into the mold” of a military style training course. Nor do I “know it all” or pretend to know it all. My hope, for this book is simply to attempt to impart upon you, the GA pilot, some of the ways in which we trained for emergencies (specifically the engine out scenario) in the military in hopes that you can follow a similar course for your own training, and ultimately make all GA pilots well-versed and thus safer when it comes to engine loss in flight. This book will give you a new bag of tricks and tactics, all designed to help you overcome an engine out situation, but the willingness and desire to go practice this stuff...is up to you.
You will not become Chuck Yeager after reading this book. However, after reading this book you will probably know way more than your average GA pilot about engine loss scenarios and recoveries, maybe even more than your CFI. If you are a CFI, you will be able to add even more realism and relevance to your teachings.
My desires are that you take your time to digest this book and then go out and apply and practice some of these techniques in your single engine aircraft of choice. Quite possibly (and hopefully) this writing will teach you some new techniques, and optimistically it can become a good source of reference for you as you continue to advance your pilot skill sets. By reading this book and taking measures to address your own training for emergencies and engine out situations, you have taken the first step to becoming a safer GA pilot. I applaud you!
Lastly, while this book is designed for the General Aviation pilot in any single engine airplane, we will be focusing our studies, charts, and procedures on one specific aircraft, the Beech Bonanza. Even though some of these examples and procedures are Bonanza specific, please realize that all of the following procedures may be used in any single engine aircraft. While glide ratios and speeds and so forth might be different than in your particular aircraft of choice, the concepts and facts all still apply. Some minor adjustments to your procedures and numbers will of course be needed, however we will generally focus on the Bonanza to keep things simple. I will also do my best to keep this book “math free.” If you are like me, math is a challenge, even at one G and zero knots! Where applicable, I’ll have the math accomplished and illustrated for you to review.
So I will conclude by answering one of my above questions. When I stated ‘There are people who have lost their engine in General Aviation single engine aircraft, and are still here to talk about it. Yet there are also incredible statistics of fatalities for the same. Why are there such polar opposites regarding this particular emergency procedure?’
I believe the answer is training and knowledge. Training and knowledge are what will save you from an engine loss situation (and any emergency actually). If you are a pilot, or a CFI, looking to expand your engine out knowledge and training repertoire, this book is for you.
I hope you enjoy it, and I sincerely hope you learn from it!
Originally published on Fightersweep.com, December 2016, by Nate Jaros
It was August of 2008 and my Squadron, the 34th Fighter Squadron “Rude Rams” were deployed to Balad Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom. The heat was unbearable that summer, and regular temperatures over 120 degrees F were not uncommon. Temperatures on the ramp were even hotter, as shimmering heat reflected off the hard concrete, metal “start carts” and maintenance stuff, as well as our heavily loaded Vipers. Metal things literally burn you if you touch them at 120 degrees F in the sun.
For some amount of time during this six month deployment, I was on “mids.” Mids was after “day shift” but before “night shift” and typically we arrived at work around 1 or 2 PM, launched for a combat sortie in the late afternoon or early evening, and recovered six hours later just in time for midnight chow. Mids was a good time to do combat ops as you typically had some amount of daytime flying, and could also do some night stuff too when things cooled off and the “bad guys” started getting a little “wiley.”
But man was it hot. Just walking to the squadron from the crew car was miserable. The sun was relentless and the heat and humidity zapped the energy and fluids from you in minutes. I have never before felt that kind of heat.
When we “stepped” to go fly, remember that we had on many layers of clothing. Normal shirts and flight suits of course, but on top of that we had a thick G-suit, a survival vest loaded with goodies and a handgun, gloves, and a helmet bag full of smart packs, papers, digital transfer cartridges, flashlights, NVGs, food, water…oh, and a helmet too. It wasn’t uncommon to have ten to fifteen pounds of gear on, plus another small suitcase of stuff to carry to the jet.
We also went everywhere with bottles of water. A one-liter bottle was common and most guys and gals took at least one with them for a five to six hour sortie.
When it was time to go, you were already sweating like a stuck pig by the time you stepped out of the squadron and into the moderately cool van that would take you to your aircraft.
When you arrived at your jet, it was like stepping out of a warm room and into an inferno. We’d greet our crew chief (who was already on his fourth or fifth one liter bottle of water as he’d been out at the jet prepping it for two hours, in the baking sun). A typical quick handshake ensued, followed by checking the forms on the jet, and then performing a standard five minute walk around of the aircraft checking tires, fluid levels, weapons configurations and so forth. Needless to say, by the time you were ready to climb in, you were already soaked through in sweat and maybe down halfway on your one liter bottle of water. The heavy gear and G-suit didn’t help much for cooling either.
On this particular day I remember climbing in, strapping in, and starting the engine. I was already feeling pretty exhausted and dehydrated and I consumed another few gulps of my water taking my bottle to about half full. I was soaked to the bone, there wasn’t anything dry on my body and the sweat poured from my brows under the heavy and hot helmet.
During the start sequence we had a problem. Something was wrong in the hydraulic system and the crew chief alerted me to the issue. After a minute or so, we determined that the aircraft was a no-go due to the hydraulics and I would need to go to the spare aircraft.
We’ve all had to go to the spare before… but on this day… in this heat… those were the words I just didn’t want to hear.
After shutting down the engine, it was time to collect my nest of carefully placed documents, bags, bottles, papers, smartpacks, NVGs and batteries and all the stuff required to do a combat sortie in a single seat fighter. I was also a literal hot mess by this point and even more sweat-soaked, and really feeling the effects of the heat with all the gear on. I cannot adequately describe how the heat feels, with all that gear layered on you.
I remember stepping to the spare aircraft, feeling like a lost survivor roaming the deserts of the Sahara, I eventually arrived, red-faced, soaked, and miserable at the spare Viper.
I greeted my new crew chief, re-nested and stowed my gear, and did my second walkaround of the day. I finished my now luke-warm one liter bottle of water and strapped in. By this time I had been in the 120 degree heat for nearly 34 minutes and was about tapped. The heat and excess clothing, gear, and weight had about done me in. I looked and felt like Rocky Balboa after ten rounds with The Champ.
We were always instructed and permitted to call “knock-it-off” for safety at any time. If the situation dictated due to human limits, or some other safety related incident, we could “make the call” and stop everything. I distinctly remember strapping into the spare jet, ten pounds lighter than when I left the squadron building telling myself “if this jet doesn’t start, and I have to go to another spare, I am done for the day.” I was completely overheated, and weary.
About 45 minutes after departing the squadron building, less one big bottle of water and gallons of sweat, the new jet started up nicely and I closed the canopy totally excited about the cool air now filling the cramped space around me. It was heaven and I knew that I’d be okay for continuing the combat sortie. Had it not worked, I to this day, feel that I would have had some kind of heat stroke or other heat-related injury.
It was that hot.
I remember tapping into my reserve water supply, my “if you have to eject water” as we taxied out and eventually launched to go fight the fight that day, but certainly, for me…that was the hottest I’ve ever been, and closest to a heat related failure that I’ve ever known.
I’m proud that I was able to continue on that day and fly the mission, but I won’t lie about being seconds from “calling uncle” and going back into the building, head hung in shame for the heat if that second jet had failed me.
About four hours later in that sortie, as nightfall arrived for my two-ship over Iraq, I oddly remember finally feeling dry and comfortable. Just another day over Iraq.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is deadly, period. It's odorless and colorless. While flying along, you might feel a little headache coming on, maybe some confusion or tiredness...and before you know it you and your passengers are incapacitated. It's a real threat in today's aging (and new) GA fleet. It's an insidious killer.
Our friends at Bold Method have an outstanding article here if you want to know more. But I'm sure you already know the dangers of CO poisoning, and if you're thinking those little paper colored disks are going to help you...think again. I've found some research and user testimonials that say they don't, or don't work so well. They also lose effectiveness over time sitting in your hot cockpit.
One of the best features of this little device is...it's little! I love it, and the fact that it can sit on my panel where I can see it easily. It doesn't take up much real estate, but it's effective in doing it's job well despite that size.
What's also interesting is that the Pocket CO detector will trigger an alarm at three different intervals depending on what levels of CO it detects. These trigger at 50, 125, and 400 ppm with 50 ppm being the maximum permissible OSHA workplace CO exposure level. Smart. I "ops check" mine every so often by placing it near my car exhaust, and it goes bonkers! Ops check good!
I know it's a little pricey, but your health and safety are worth it, aren't they?...at least that's how I justified it to my wife :-) But honestly, if you're into safety like me, you can't put a price on that.
If you're looking for a simple and effective CO detector for your cockpit, the Pocket CO is a great way to go, and I think it's the best!
I keep seeing threads and discussions asking "what is the best product to help remove scratches from my aircraft plexiglass?" I even had a hangar neighbor ask me this very question the other day. It seems that folks just don't know what products are safe as well as effective.
Well the BEST stuff in my opinion is this goo called NOVUS. I have been using it for years on my Bonanza's plexi and even wingtip lenses. Any plexiglass really!
I need to get some before and after photos, and put them on this blog section, but the stuff really works. I've heard of a few guys getting crazy with the stuff and orbital or machine polishers, and damaging their aircraft windows. Obviously, any kind of mechanical polisher can do damage, regardless of the product you use on it...so just be smart, and careful. I did my old hazy, and scratched windows by hand. It took some time, but the results were worth it.
It's a 3-step process (kinda like coarse sand paper, medium grit sand paper, and fine sand paper.) And it really works! Give it a try, you can't damage anything if you do it by hand and use some elbow grease. I think one of the below kits has some cloths that come with it, but any cotton cloth will suffice, just make sure it's clean and dirt-free.
I hope you'll give this Novus a shot next time you need to revitalize your plexiglass, or work out any scratches. I think you'll be impressed.
Here's the scenario: You're at 10,000 MSL and your engine fails. You are at the black dot in the center of the picture, on glide speed, and exactly 17 nm from two airports. Airport A is to the North, and Airport Z is to the South. Both airports are at Sea Level. Winds are from the North at 10 KIAS, and constant throughout all altitudes. We also are presuming a perfectly held glide speed for best L/D MAX for entire profile. Yes this is a hypothetical situation, but it brings about a good discussion and some good key points to remember and train for.
For those that don't know, the Bonanza glide ratio in feet per nm is 1.7/1,000 feet. That is a nominal clean Bonanza, on speed will glide 1.7 nm for every 1,000 feet of altitude.
So in the case above, IF THERE WAS NO WIND, theoretically, the engine out airplane could make it to either airport. But as with real life, we have winds to contend with.
Given our scenario, and winds... Which airport to do you choose?
Knowing our glide performance and ratios, you might be tempted to pick Airport A, that headwind might help you "float" or stay aloft longer. Maybe??
Well, this is simply not true. The gliding airplane will perform the same throughout the glide profile and and airmass, and the headwind component will simply slow your ground speed and you will land short of Airport A. Your TIME in the glide will remain the SAME as if you were in a no wind situation. With headwinds, your ground speed will suffer, and you will not reach Airport A.
By the way, how far short would you land if you went to Airport A?
That's easy! 1.7 nm
Remember, that for every 10 KIAS of wind through 10,000 feet of altitude will reduce your glide RANGE by a factor of your glide ratio per nautical mile. So for the Bonanza at 1.7nm/1,000' ... you will land precisely 1.7 nm short. This of course assumes a perfectly held indicated airspeed for the weight of the aircraft, and perfect 10 KIAS of headwind all the way down. Not very realistic, but an interesting relationship none-the-less.
So that leaves us with Airport Z.
Airport Z is your best option. The wind will "push" you there faster and theoretically you would arrive 1.7nm "early" due to our above math relationship. That equates to 1,000 feet of altitude in the Bonanza. Perfect to set up your energy for a Low Key or Base Key downwind entry for a 180 degree turn back to the north and a nice touchdown. So you'll arrive overhead Airfield Z at 1,000 AGL. Make sense?
Key takeaway: Always consider ALL available surfaces to land, keeping in mind that all surfaces that reside in a "downwind cone" from your present position will be better options than ones that force you into fighting headwinds through the glide. When touching down (engine out), if at all possible, it's always advisable to land into the wind to slow that groundspeed and reduce impact forces.
See more discussions like this one in Engine Out Survival Tactics, available in paperback or eBook.
General Aviation (GA) aircraft accidents kill hundreds of people every year. These crashes and fatalities have always been a source of much discussion, and a source of much study. Amidst all of the statistic and analysis, engine power loss and mechanical failure mishaps continue to be a leading cause of fatal accidents in General Aviation. In fact, engine loss accidents are the number one cause of crashes not later deemed as “pilot error.”
A fact sheet issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2014 stated that powerplant system component failure was the third leading cause for all General Aviation fatalities for the decade 2001 – 2011 (FAA Fact Sheet, 30 Jul 2014).
How can we better prepare pilots for these types of failures, the types of failures that are out of their control and in which no one can see coming? With my book, and some training, I aim to help you become a more informed and safer pilot. You will be armed with the tactics to defeat the engine loss situation in your single engine aircraft, and survive. Let’s have a look here at some of the things discussed in my new book, Engine Out Survival Tactics.
1. Know Your Glide Performance.
What is a glide ratio? Simply stated, a glide ratio is the mathematical ratio of how far forward an airplane travels under no power, and its subsequent vertical distance lost in traveling that forward distance. Generally, these ratios are given for stabilized flight, stabilized at that airplane’s “best glide” airspeed and under no wind conditions.
You need to know the glide ratio of your aircraft and be able to translate that ratio into numbers you can “see” in the cockpit, like feet lost for nautical miles traveled. Knowing this baseline book performance of your aircraft is the bedrock of your engine out knowledge.
You should also have an idea of what the winds at altitude are doing, and how they affect your glide. Obviously, a headwind shortens the glide, while a tailwind lengthens that glide distance. But knowing the winds at altitude and also on the surface, can be tricky. Modern avionics can help here some, but you should strive for ways to keep sharp on identifying what the winds “out there” are doing by using various techniques you learned in your early training.
2. Have a Plan: Emergency Procedure Preparedness.
I know it’s a bit cliche, but you must have a plan. What will you do when that engine decides to quit on you?
In the United States Air Force (USAF) we train for countless hours on engine out situations (more on that in step six). But part of that training is having an immediate plan.
Have you ever heard of CAPs? CAPs are Critical Action Procedures, and in the USAF, you must know the CAPs for your aircraft by heart, upside down, and inside and out. Period. We also practice the CAPs for our aircraft once a month on paper from memory, as well as on periodic check rides, and in monthly simulator training too.
The idea behind CAPs are that certain life-threatening and critical emergencies do not allow the pilot time to open a checklist and locate the correct procedures. The pilot must know what to do immediately. In the F-16 things like an engine fire on start, emergency ground egress, and of course engine failure in flight/airstart are all considered CAPs. All of these procedures are memorized. Most major airlines have CAPs for their aircraft and require their pilots to memorize them too.
You might have some bold-print checklists steps for your single engine piston, if so consider them CAPs and commit them to memory. In my book, I also offer more techniques and a set of engine loss CAPs that can apply to all GA piston aircraft. Either way, you must have a plan and know what steps to accomplish quickly, in order to affect a restart and/or safely prepare the aircraft and passengers for the forced landing.
3. Understand Energy Management.
Energy management is an art. It is the art of seeing your descending glide path and understanding your relationship to that path, or ribbon in the sky. Fighter pilots often call this the “sight picture.”
What is energy as far as the pilot is concerned? Energy or energy state is a reference to a summative collection of potential and kinetic energy of the aircraft. Altitude and airspeed to put it simply. An SR-71 at 80,000 feet MSL going Mach 3 has tremendous energy. A single engine piston at pattern altitudes and airspeeds has far lower energy than our SR-71.
When it comes to energy states, different aircraft can have similar energy states but be in different parts of the sky. For example, an aircraft can have high airspeed but low altitude, an F-16 on a 500 KIAS low-level for instance. A similar energy state might be that same F-16 up at 20,000 feet but going very slowly. Even though these aircraft have opposite altitudes and airspeeds, each could conceivably have similar (or the same) energy states. The low-level F-16 could trade that airspeed for altitude and ‘pop-up’ to 10,000 feet in a just a few seconds. Conversely, the slow F-16 at 20,000 feet could trade in his altitude for airspeed by diving to 10,000 feet and regaining airspeed. Don’t get too caught up in the numbers, but the concepts and ideas are important to understand for the tactical pilot as well as the pilot faced with an engine out situation.
After one starts to understand energy states, energy management and precision energy management becomes easy.
4. Know Where to Land.
When faced with a forced landing, if you are not willing to bet your life on the uncertainty of the actual state of the landing surface material (hard, soft, muddy, etc.), and you have retractable gear, then you should land gear up. If you have fixed gear, then it is even more imperative that you locate a suitable hard landing surface. Here’s why.
Getting data from the accident reports on this sort of post-crash damage is difficult to gather. However the preponderance of the limited data I could find and associated pictures seemed to point to highway and road landings with gear down looking pretty survivable. Those landings in fields and deserts with the gear down had a much higher rate of nose damage, flips, ripped off nose gear, and crunched firewalls.
Additionally the 1958 T-34A flight manual has a warning in its emergency procedures section about this situation. Remember that the T-34 is basically a tandem-seat Bonanza, with an identical wing and landing gear. This warning in the manual states: “Make no attempt to land on unprepared or unfamiliar terrain with the landing gear extended” (T-34A Flight Handbook, 1958). The more modern T-34B Navy flight manual also has a similar warning in its manual. That warning states: “When landing with the gear down on unprepared surfaces, the nose gear may collapse from contact with rough terrain and may cause the aircraft to invert making egress difficult. When the condition of the landing surface is in doubt, it is recommended that the landing gear remain in the up position” (T-34B Flight Manual, 1981). Of course flipping a T-34 and landing on its bubble canopy would be especially bad for the occupants, the idea still holds true for any aircraft in this situation, you want to avoid a flip.
If you have the choice and the surface below you is unknown, I’d highly recommend you keep the gear up. If you have fixed gear, you need to land on the hardest and flattest surface you can find; your nose gear can also collapse in soft or uncertain terrain increasing your deceleration forces and increasing the level of risk for injury and damage.
For me, if I can land engine out on a surface that I would consider taxiing or taking off from, then I will lower the gear and land on it gear down. If it’s a soft surface or a field of heavy thick crops, or a desert full of scrub-brush, I wouldn’t be taking off from those environments so my gear will stay up if forced to land there. That is my game plan, and I’m sticking to it.
5. Your Engine Monitor: Know the Signs.
I am sometimes asked what an engine failure in an airplane looks and sounds like. In fact, based on some recent good feedback on my webpage and other internet posts, interested pilots like you, have asked for this information.
Obviously, an engine failure “looks like” a stopped propeller and might “sound like” a big bang or vibration. But that is not always the case. There have been many accidents where the aircraft engine was running rough, or just not developing ample power. In these instances, the engine failure was not as clear-cut and obvious. What you need to realize is that there is truly a spectrum of engine failure varieties and how they might present themselves to you in the cockpit will vary as well. From the horrific bang and stopped propeller, to the insidious Cylinder Head Temperatures (CHT) indication change, a multitude of events can be described as engine failure or pending engine failure and you will need to know how to identify them.
Modern GA aircraft engine monitors are the foremost method to analyzing your engine performance and catching any pending engine problems. Without an engine monitor, you are simply in the dark as a pilot. You really do need to have a somewhat modern engine monitor if you want to better predict a pending engine problem or failure as well as to monitor the overall health of the engine throughout its lifespan. With the somewhat common pre-ignition or detonation events that can damage our engines, one single cylinder CHT will climb rapidly and excessively. The only way to identify these types of more common pending failures is with an engine monitor than can display individual CHTs. It’s that important.
Engine Out Survival Tactics will give you even more information about what an engine failure or pending engine failure “looks like” on your engine monitor, and what you should do if you see the signs.
6. Training and Practice: Sight Picture.
What it all truly boils down to is training and practice. If you want to be best prepared for a possible engine loss event, you have to practice. Like all professional athletes, practice makes perfect. I am not advocating a rigorous professional engine loss program, or even one that is similar to today’s military pilot regimens, however I am saying you have to get out there and do it! You must practice.
A common theme when discussing engine loss events with actual pilot survivors is that they all agree that their training saved their lives. They also agree that there was little time, and cockpit task load was extremely high during their power-loss events. Being able to simply look out the window and know that that road or runway “looks about right” is something that is developed over time with training and practice. There simply wont be time to do a lot of glide math and make careful calculations to your glide path when faced with a coughing engine.
Unfortunately I do not have enough time and space here to cover all the methods and concepts for practicing engine loss events in your piston single, that is the subject of my book and it’s a rather lengthy section as well. But to summarize that chapter, you need to figure out how to replicate a glide in your chosen aircraft and then go out and try it. You can do this from a position overhead the landing surface, or out away from the runway too. There are many options and important numbers that you will need to know and strive to practice to. Repetitive practice and a few key “tricks” described in Engine Out Survival Tactics with arm you with the tools to “see” your glide path and develop that sight picture that will be crucial to a safe real-world recovery.
How ready are you for that engine loss event? Are you comfortable with a basic understanding, or do you feel that you need to have practiced one or two glides every so often? For an individual, what amount (if any) is a good number of practice engine out events to be considered practiced and proficient?
In the USA, the FAA mandates that we all do three takeoff and landings every 90 days to carry passengers. That is a currency to fly with others. They also ask us to do six instrument approaches every six months to retain our instrument currency. Do you think we should have a currency requirement for practice engine out situations?
We sure did in the USAF and in the F-16. We had to log 12 practice engine out patterns a year and we were considered out of currency if we went over 90 days without having done at least one practice engine out pattern. We also had an ejection seat! Yet we still had a modestly strong currency for these emergency procedures and practicing engine out patterns.
Interestingly, U-2 Dragon Lady pilots also carry a practice engine out pattern currency of 45 days. In the T-6 Texan II, the USAF’s foremost primary trainer aircraft, all of its instructor pilots are required to maintain a 60 day engine out practice currency. Even pilots of our newest fighter, the F-35, with its “new airplane smell” are required to do engine loss practice every 90 days, just like the F-16.
What are your thoughts on engine loss currency? When was the last time you practiced, and do you consider yourself ready and armed with the knowledge and skills to safely recover? As with most things in aviation, being current in engine out practice is much different from just knowing how to do it.
I hope you decide to build and implement your own training and practice regimen for engine loss events. If you are looking for more knowledge on how to do this, learn about your plane’s glide ratio, know the checklist procedures, develop a practice glide profile, and practice it! Good luck and fly safe!
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Most military fighter guys are flying with these things, and in the F-16 community, the FlyBoys kneeboard is the preferred brand. Most of us loaded them up with checklists, In-flight-guides, and clear plastic sleeves full of useful information...like the Bonanza Smart Guide with key numbers and facts mentioned in Engine Out Survival Tactics and available here on my webpage. I load my kneeboard up with Bonanza specific items, checklists, and even some Emergency Procedure checklists and quick reference numbers...as well as some reminders for how to operate the ever-confusing G430/530 avionics. ;-)
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