AVIATION SAFETY NEWSLETTER
Thought for the month....Good pilots have been known to survive all kinds of bad training.
THE OLD "ONCE OVER"....One of the things I recall being taught when flying cross-country to non-towered airports, was to remain above the traffic pattern altitude and fly over my destination, checking not only the wind sock for direction and velocity, but also to ensure that I had arrived at the correct airport. This was done by verifying the runway layout and surrounding topographical information with the chart. Since I was looking at the runway anyway, my flight instructor always made a point of telling me to check the runway surface and look for any questionable conditions.
This was the time to find the "Xs" that hadn't been reported in NOTAMs, and to wonder what those trucks parked near the edge of the runway might be there for. If this was a night landing, I was taught that my first approach was just for practice. It gave me a chance to evaluate my pattern and approach angle, and fly down the centerline using the landing light to look for any anomalies. Having done that, I entered a normal traffic pattern and landed. Virtually every cross-country involved an over-flight and sometimes two approaches. It wasn't until I started flying with some of the more experienced pilots (those guys with almost 100 hours) that I found out that it wasn't "cool" to do that. I was advertising to everyone that I was a new guy. It was like flying with training wheels.
When I learned to fly helicopters I was reintroduced to the old "once over" maneuver. Rotorheads call it a high recon, and it is vital because we routinely land helicopters in unimproved areas. The pilot is responsible for determining the suitability of the landing area, barriers to the approach and departure, wind direction, slope, and the best way in and out to take advantage of available forced landing areas. There are no NOTAMs for a confined area in the middle of the Mark Twain Forest. We have to issue our own.
During the past year there have been several instances of aircraft that were damaged, and even fatalities that occurred, as a result of aircraft hitting things on the runway. One example happened in Louisiana when two people were killed when the Cessna they were flying hit a dirt pile on landing. The runway was closed for reconstruction and the airport had been NOTAMed "closed". The accident occurred after dark and neither the runway lights nor the rotating beacon were operating. Despite all the clues that were available, the pilot elected to execute an approach and landing. Maybe he was lost and just happy to find a place to land. We'll never know. He never received the NOTAM because his proposed route of flight wasn't supposed to be through central Louisiana. Even if he had, he might not have known that the airport he selected to land at was the one NOTAMed out.
It's no secret that the NOTAM system isn't as accurate as we would all like it to be. A prudent pilot is expected to check NOTAMs, but not necessarily to consider them the final source of all information regarding the flight. In light of the accidents that have occurred, perhaps it's time to say that it's OK to check out the airport before landing. Explain to the passengers ahead of time that because there is no tower at the destination, that a few extra minutes will be necessary to give the airport the old once over and that the first approach will result in a fly-by to the side of the runway, just as extra insurance that nothing unexpected is waiting to ruin the end of a successful flight. It's unlikely that any passenger will complain about a pilot who is concerned about their safety.
Some may remark; "Well, that's not the way the Pros fly. Ever seen a commuter pilot fly over the airport and enter a normal traffic pattern?" Actually - I have, but I concede, it's not the normal scenario. Consider however, most commuters are in and out of the same airport once or twice a day, day after day, and they normally have company people on the ground to pass on any information about changes at the airport. If I had the same up-to-date information that they have, I would feel a lot more confident about the condition of the runway. If I'm familiar with the airport, and the Unicom is operational (and I have a level of trust in who is providing the information) I will probably skip the over flight, but my rotorhead training kicks in on downwind as I do a high recon. I've been flying from the Downtown Airport for about 29 years so I'm sort of familiar with it, but even there I have learned to do the old once over after the tower closes. It's helped me avoid numerous animal encounters, and several check haulers departing from unlit runways.
There are four primary excuses for failing to accomplish a worthwhile procedure:
Having read this, you now only have two!
Illinois Pilots Association.
Safety Seminar at Mid America Airport
Sponsored by the Scott AFB Aero Club
1 PM to 5 PM.
Parks College 4th Annual Fly In/Drive In Breakfast
Hangar 8 at St Louis Downtown Airport (CPS)
Pancake breakfast starts at 7:00AM
Safety Seminar at 9:00 AM.
7 - 8:30 PM.
May 15 & 16
St Clair Airport
St Clair MO Airport Open House
Food, activities, safety seminar.
LET'S NOT MEET BY ACCIDENT
FRED P. HARMS
Safety Program Manager
1-800-322-8876 x 4835