Aviation Safety Corner
GREETINGS! For this month's topic, I will continue discussing, "Open-Door Debacle." The result
of a door opening in flight too often is a crash. It shouldn't be that way. This is Part III of IV.
Let's begin our discussion with "Out of Control." The other accident involved an Evergreen Airlines Douglas DC-9 that was on a military contract flight from Carswell AFB, TX to Tinker AFB, OK.
Just after the aircraft rotated for takeoff, the main cargo door came open. The cockpit voice recording indicates that the pilots were not sure what had happened. Initially, the door opened fully, producing some yaw and rolling effects that pushed the aircraft down and to the right.
The Captain managed to stabilize the aircraft and enter a right downwind to return for landing. With the aircraft stabilized, the door returned to an almost-closed position. NTSB believes the Captain became disoriented while looking for the runway lights in near total darkness. As he began a right turn to base, the cargo door opened again. This time, it flipped up over the top of the fuselage, causing the aircraft to yaw and roll right, and the nose to tuck. The Captain was unable to regain control, and the DC-9 dove right into the ground. Both pilots, alone aboard the cargo flight, were killed.
Again, investigators found that the door had been improperly latched prior to takeoff; but NTSB also discovered 23 previous cases of cargo doors opening on DC-8's and DC-9's. That none of these prior events had caused a crash was fortunate, because there was no guidance available to help flight crews deal with doors opening in flight.
Now, let's discuss, "Lack of Guidance." The pilot's operating handbooks published by Beech, Cess-na and Piper have only minimal guidance, and few have specific procedures, emergency or otherwise, dealing with doors opening in flight.
Some of the Beech handbooks note that "should the door open in flight, the pilot should return to the airport in a normal manner."
The most thorough POH item I found was in a Piper Aerostar manual. It states that "should the cabin door inadvertently open in flight, reduce airspeed and land as soon as possible."
The Aerostar manual also warns: "Do not attempt to manually close (or hold closed) a door in flight due to the possibility of injury caused by the propeller or air loads to the door."
Most POHs have a before-takeoff checklist item to "close and secure" the cabin door(s), but most instructors I talked to indicated that this isn't something they normally teach.
As I mentioned earlier, most General Aviation mishaps happen because pilots get distracted by the open doors and quit paying attention to what their airplanes are doing.
This happened to the pilot of a Piper Aerostar 601 at Tampa International in 1983. Shortly after takeoff, he radioed the tower that the main cabin door was open and requested landing instructions. The aircraft was destroyed when it crashed short of the runway, but the pilot escaped serious injury. He told investigators that he was holding the door and trying to fly the aircraft on short final when he lost control.
Now, in conclusion, remember "Most GA mishaps happen because pilots become distracted and quit paying attention to what their air-planes are doing."
Don't miss next month's, Aviation Safety Corner, when we'll discuss, "Stalls and Slips."And "Staying Safe." This will be Part IV of IV. SAFE FLYING!
Larry G. Harmon
FAA Aviation Safety Counselor