Safe Landings - March 2013

You and UAS

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) — also referred to as “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” (UAV’s), “Remotely Piloted Vehicles” (RPV’s), “unmanned aircraft” or “drones” — come in a wide range of configurations and sizes, and have multiple military and civilian functions.

UAS operations utilize a Pilot-in-Command who is controlling the aircraft from a remote location. In the event of a data link failure or other malfunction the system may revert to a pre-programmed mode.

The FAA is under congressional mandate to integrate most UAS into the National Airspace System (NAS) by 2015 (2014 for UAS weighing less than 55 pounds) with the primary focus and authority being safety. In planning the integration of UAS into the NAS, the FAA has to develop a safe and efficient way that these systems can operate in the same airspace as crewed aircraft without creating a hazard to other aircraft or to people and property on the ground.

To date, UAS access to the NAS remains restricted pending development of appropriate operational procedures, standards, and policies. The FAA approves UAS operations on a case-by-case basis. UAS authorized by the FAA to operate in controlled airspace have to comply with appropriate FAR or equivalent military standards related to aircraft and operator certification as well as equipment and communication requirements.

The following ASRS reports are presented to increase Pilot and Controller awareness of UAS operations and to provide some insight into the systems from an Operator’s viewpoint. Additionally, UAS Operators may gain a better appreciation of the interaction of UAS with other elements in the NAS.

UAS Altitude Excursions

Four ASRS reports describe incidents in which UAS departed from their assigned altitude. In the first report, an Air Traffic Controller observed a UAS altitude deviation and also expressed concern for the consequences of UAS data link failures.

• While working an adjacent sector, I witnessed a UAS deviate from his assigned altitude. This UAS was cleared to maintain FL350. The [UAS] aircraft descended out of FL350 to FL300 without a clearance. When questioned by the Air Traffic Controller, the Remote Pilot stated that he could not maintain FL350 so he descended. 

I feel this event happened due to the training of the Remote Pilots of the unmanned aircraft. The accountability and standards for remotely piloted, unmanned aircraft should be equal to the standards of commercial pilots. 

Also, unmanned aircraft must be held to the same restrictions as manned aircraft. For example, in a [UA] System, if the aircraft loses data link it will fly its programmed flight plan. It will not maintain its last assigned altitude. This can affect the Controller’s ability to maintain positive separation.

An Operator reported losing aerodynamic control of the UAS and was too busy reestablishing control to immediately notify ATC of the problem. It is not known if the UAS Copilot had communications capability with ATC.

• I requested a climb from FL190 to FL250 to climb above weather. Before entering into a climb, I asked the Copilot to perform a full sweep with the camera to look for clouds and adverse weather. None was noted. 

Climbing through FL210, conditions were encountered that affected the performance of the [UAS] aircraft and resulted in a loss of altitude from FL210 to 16,500 feet MSL. Due to my efforts to fully regain positive control of the aircraft, I failed to declare an emergency. As soon as I regained positive control, I initiated an immediate climb to the cleared altitude of FL250. ATC advised of the deviation in altitude. I advised ATC that the descent was due to weather and the aircraft was currently in a climb to FL250. The flight level request was amended to FL290 in order to fly above the weather.

A Certificate of Authorization (COA) from the FAA authorizes a UAS operator to use a defined airspace and includes special provisions unique to each operation. Most, if not all, COAs require coordination with an appropriate Air Traffic Control facility and may require the UAS to have a transponder to operate in certain types of airspace. The UAS Operator who submitted this report to ASRS was operating in accordance with a COA when the data link to the UAS was lost.

• My UAV was conducting assigned missions at FL200 in accordance with a COA issued by the FAA. At one point in the mission the UAV descended to FL190 without an ATC clearance. At the time of this violation, we lost a control link…with the [UAS] aircraft. As we were then unable to verify the aircraft’s position or obtain critical flight information, the command link with the [UAS] aircraft was disabled releasing it on its emergency mission profile in accordance with the approved emergency checklist. The [UAS] aircraft then began squawking 7600 and entered autonomous flight proceeding direct to the assigned emergency mission loiter point and descended to a pre-programmed altitude of FL190. 

The remote command link with the UAV was lost for several minutes. This command link allows the aircraft to be flown by a PIC approximately 1,000 miles away using satellite relayed commands. It was this link that was lost and the aircraft was then released to its pre-programmed emergency rendezvous point where it would then be picked up visually and landed by on-site operators. In this case the command link was regained after several minutes and the aircraft flown directly by the PIC to a point where it could be visually acquired by the on-site crew and was landed safely. Maintenance investigation is required to ascertain the reason for the lost link before the aircraft is again released for flight operations.

In another report from a UAS Operator, the aircraft experienced an altitude and heading deviation due to loss of the data link, but the Operator made a timely report to ATC.

• Due to an inadvertent SPMA (Signal Processor Modem Assembly) reset during a backup communications power up, the UAS experienced a Lost Link situation. The UAS was cruising at FL230 to avoid weather when the Lost Link occurred. The Operator failed to update the Lost Link Profile to reflect the ATC clearance which caused the aircraft to turn towards the closest Lost Link entry point and initiate a descent to FL190 which was the previous Lost Link Profile. The Operator immediately called ATC and notified Center that the link should be regained within two minutes. Once the SPMA link was reestablished, the aircraft climbed to its previous altitude of FL230. 

No additional information was requested by Center after communications were regained and the flight continued without further incident. A software change request is being researched for added protection from inadvertent SPMA resets.

Close Encounter

A small UAS encountered by the Pilot of a manned aircraft may have been outside its designated airspace. If ATC is not aware of a UAS, Pilots have to rely on see and avoid procedures and handle UAS conflicts the same as conflicts with manned aircraft.

• My passengers and I noticed an oblong shaped UAV (approximately two to three feet long with a long antenna) passing us in the opposite direction within 100 feet of our left wing on the 45-degree entry to Runway 15…. The object did not show up on my TCAS system as a threat. These vehicles need to show up in the cockpit as a threat or stay within the Military Operating Area (MOA).

Additional UAS information can be found at the following FAA websites:


The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has a free interactive course, Unmanned Aircraft and the National Airspace System at:


Safe Landings - February 2013

What Would You Have Done?

This “interactive” issue of CALLBACK, presents three in-flight situations that involve General Aviation Pilots. In “The First Half of the Story” you will find report excerpts describing the situation up to the decision point. It is up to the reader to determine the possible courses of action and make a decision (preferably within the same time frame that was available to the reporter). 

The selected ASRS reports may not give all the information you want and you may not be experienced in the type of aircraft involved, but each incident should give you a chance to exercise your aviation decision-making skills. In “The Rest of the Story” you will find the actions actually taken by reporters in response to each situation. Bear in mind that their decisions may not necessarily represent the best course of action. Our intent is to stimulate thought, discussion, and training related to the type of incidents that were reported.

The First Half of the Story

Situation # 1: (C172RG Pilot’s Report)

On departure, the gear retracted normally. However, immediately after retraction I heard a loud “POP” followed by a call from Tower indicating that my left main gear had retracted then fallen down again. Another aircraft behind me confirmed seeing the same thing. The aircraft has a gear mirror installed on the right wing, which allowed me to view all three gear. The left main was in a trailing position. The nose and right main were retracted. I cycled the gear. The left main didn’t move from its in-trail position. I advised Tower that I would troubleshoot the gear and tried yawing the aircraft and maneuvering so as to swing the gear with inertia into the locked position…. Unable to retract or extend the gear, I made a call…to an A&P to confirm my suspicion that it was most likely the gear actuator that had broken loose from the pivot point…. I could land with the right main and nose gear down and locked or fully retracted. I could also land under power or secure the engine and try to save the engine and prop.

What Would You Have Done?

Situation #2: (PA-31 Pilot’s Report)

• I had planned to leave at 0730, but the weather was 500-foot ceiling and two miles visibility. The lowest approach minimum at [my destination] was one-mile visibility and 800-foot ceiling. The runway was short (2,000 feet) and there were no approach lights. I waited more than two hours for the weather to improve, but it didn’t. I decided to request a Special VFR clearance after phoning the destination FBO. They told me the visibility there was at least three to four miles and the ceiling was definitely 500 feet or better. I assumed the ceiling would be at least 500 feet all the way on the four to five minute flight. When I got a few miles east of the airport the ceiling suddenly dropped and I had to decide whether to stay at 500 feet AGL and pop into the clouds or descend to remain clear.

What Would You Have Done?

Situation #3: (SR22 Pilot’s Report)

• When I had flown the route IFR earlier in the day the ceilings were about 3,500 to 4,000 feet. I decided to make the return trip VFR with flight following and stay under the 3,000 foot floor of the…Bravo airspace since that is what ATC would have had me do had I filed IFR. All was well until I reached the shoreline. I was at 2,700 feet and I was cleared by Approach through the Class D at or above 2,500 feet, but I had to stay below the Bravo airspace at 3,000 feet. As I reached land, the ceiling dropped to just about 2,700 feet so I descended to 2,500 feet, but that still put me in the base of the clouds. Then ATC warned me about traffic ahead on a missed approach and suddenly I found myself trapped in and out of the clouds, unable to descend without busting the Delta airspace. Meanwhile I could not see the traffic, which was being called out straight ahead by the traffic warning system.

What Would You Have Done?

The Rest of the Story 

Situation #1: (C172RG Pilot’s Report)

The Reporter’s Action:

• At the cost of an engine and prop, but with significant risk reduction, I elected to land under power with right main and nose retracted. I contacted Tower, advised of our situation…and our intention to land gear up…. We landed uneventfully on the centerline with a soft, controlled, low energy touchdown; no fuel leaks, no hydraulic leaks, no oil leaks, no fire, and no injuries. The damage to the airframe was pretty minimal, however the propeller was obviously destroyed and therefore the engine will require teardown. I felt it appropriate to make a report to document the decision-making on landing under power, which I would highly recommend rather than making the error of “trying to save the engine and prop” and reducing options on landing.

Because the sink was greater than I anticipated, I did need to add additional power just prior to touchdown. Should I have tried to “save” the engine, it would have made for a solid impact with the runway increasing damage to the airframe and possibly resulting in injury.

Leaving the engine running, I was able to make a gentle, low energy touchdown. The resulting sensation in the cockpit was like a normal landing (louder, but normal forces), zero injuries, and a happy outcome. Again, I would highly recommend a low total energy touchdown under power for anyone finding they need to make a forced gear-up landing. The aircraft, engine, propeller can all be replaced and it’s not worth “trying to save” a machine at the cost of possible injury.

Thank you for providing the Aviation Safety Reporting System. As a long-time pilot, I find this open sharing of information valuable to aviation safety.


Situation #2: (PA-31 Pilot’s Report)

The Reporter’s Action:

• I decided to descend and went down to what I estimated to be about 350 feet AGL. Even though it was a sparsely populated area, I flew over two housing developments below 500 feet AGL. At three miles out, I saw the airport and runway, and the ceiling increased. I made an uneventful landing and it wasn’t till after I got out of the plane that I realized that I had busted the regulation for minimum altitude over a structure or vehicle. The basic cause was that I had made a false assumption that the ceiling would be at least 500 feet all the way since the two airports were only 10-11 miles apart. This was definitely a case of poor judgment on my part. In the future, I will not assume that the ceiling will remain uniform and give myself more margin for error. I should have waited until the ceiling was at least 800 to 1,000 feet. My desire to get an annual underway ASAP at [my destination] also played a role similar to the old “get-home-itis.”

Situation #3: (SR22 Pilot’s Report)

The Reporter’s Action:

• I was able to turn into clear weather over the airport, away from the traffic, but busted VFR minimums and descended into the top 100 feet of the Delta airspace. I should have monitored the ATIS while I was over the ocean and asked for a clearance when it was clear I could not maintain VFR minimums (although it turned out to be mostly clear directly over the airport) or circled when the weather closed in and asked for a clearance. Next time I will get the clearance first and cancel if the weather accommodates.



Safe Landings - January 2013

It’s a Blast But It’s Not Fun

During takeoff and some taxi maneuvers, the high thrust levels of modern jet engines can produce exhaust wakes that present a significant hazard to other aircraft operating on or near the airport surface. The jet blast incidents presented in this CALLBACK highlight the need for both Pilots and Air Traffic Controllers to be aware of the circumstances where this hazard can occur and take measures to avoid jet blast or prevent it.

The three events below deal with aircraft versus aircraft scenarios that occurred in the runway environment. Jet blast (or prop wash) can also occur in the ramp area where it poses a risk to vehicles and ground personnel as well.

While most general aviation pilots think of wake turbulence and jet blast as being issues that primarily concern pilots of small planes, it should be noted that even “big on big” can have problems.  A little Cessna 150 can receive the same surprise some of these pilots did when caught by the surprise of a Barron in the middle of a high power run up.  Don’t count on the tower to prevent prop and jet blast from being a problem.  As the PIC, this is your job.

Taxi Versus Landing

Fortunately, the Pilot at the controls of this C172 was experienced enough to handle an unexpected blast from a widebody jet powering through a turn.

■ During landing roll-out, a taxiing widebody turning left onto a taxiway, jet-blasted the C172 in which I was the CFI. Our aircraft became airborne momentarily and the tail of the aircraft was pushed strongly to the left. I did manage to keep control and prevented any damage to the runway or the aircraft. I believe that if an inexperienced pilot had control of the aircraft, the outcome could have been much worse. I can only imagine what the outcome could have been if we were still airborne. ATC did not advise of, nor seem to notice the hazard of this jet blast. The widebody transport was taxing slowly around the turn and it is possible he was using one engine to taxi with a lot of power in the turn. I think that the airport should not allow these aircraft to taxi with one engine. ATC should not allow anyone to land near widebody aircraft when this type of hazard is possible. Or they should not let this size of aircraft use those taxiways when the adjacent runway is in use and traffic has clearance to land or takeoff.

Takeoff Versus Landing

As the Captain of an A320 noted, the jet blast of a corporate jet is sufficient to upset a larger aircraft if they are in close proximity.

■ During landing flare on Runway 23, the aircraft suddenly rolled right and shifted right of centerline. The winds were light and there had been no turbulence on the approach so this was totally unexpected. I briefly considered a rejected landing/go-around but was able to roll the airplane level and get back to centerline. After clearing the runway, I queried Ground Control about the situation and learned that a corporate jet had been cleared for takeoff on Runway 18L at Intersection A at the same time we were landing on Runway 23. Due to the very close proximity of Runway 18L intersection A to the touchdown zone of Runway 23, Tower should not be clearing aircraft for takeoff from this point while aircraft are landing on Runway 23…. Encountering jet blast while landing can place the aircraft in an unsafe position very quickly.

Taxi Versus Takeoff

There is no good time to encounter the jet blast of a heavy jet, but as this A319 Captain related, takeoff rotation is a particularly bad time to be “jolted.”

■ At takeoff rotation from Runway 28, we were jolted by the jet blast from a B767 that had crossed Runway 28 and was stopped facing south on Taxiway F, just clear of the runway. We believe the B767 might have been powering up to continue taxi, but his engine thrust was pointed directly at our rotation point for takeoff. As we rolled by with our nose wheel off the ground, we got a severe jolt from his jet blast. Fortunately we had flying speed and became airborne immediately; nevertheless this was a close call. This is potentially unsafe and Tower Controllers should hold takeoffs until jet blast can no longer be a factor.


Safe Landings - December 2012

Adverse Weather Planning and Tactics

Two Perspectives

According to the FAA General Aviation Pilot’s Guide to Preflight Planning, Weather Self-Briefings, and Weather Decision Making, many pilots who hear about a weather-related accident think, “I would never have tried to fly in those conditions.” But interviews with pilots who survived weather-related accidents indicate that they thought the same thing — until they found themselves in weather conditions they did not expect and could not safely handle. This CALLBACK presents weather-related ASRS incident reports along with corresponding National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) accident reports involving the same type of aircraft in similar weather conditions. The ASRS reports offer a first-hand account of what were often narrow escapes from adverse weather conditions. The NTSB reports are second-hand accounts about pilots who were not as fortunate in their weather encounters. The ASRS incidents are often seen as precursors to the accidents reported by the NTSB.

Three of the many lessons that can be learned from the ASRS reports are: 1) review and know the procedures for dealing with adverse weather in your aircraft, 2) avoid adverse weather if possible and, 3) have an escape plan in the event of an unexpected encounter with dangerous weather. Failure to learn the lessons presented here can lead to an ASRS incident report if you are lucky or an NTSB accident report if you are not. But, smart pilots remember the old axiom: You start with a bag full of luck and an empty bag of experience. The trick is to fill the bag of experience before you empty the bag of luck.

Event #1

Aircraft: PA-32 with weather data link capability 
Situation: Entry into an area of rapidly building thunderstorms

ASRS Report #1

“I Came Close to Being a Statistic”

Even with good preflight planning and onboard weather data link capability, it took the help of ATC to successfully extricate this PA-32 Pilot from an area of fast-building thunderstorms. The all-too-close encounter highlights a critical factor about the timeliness of NEXRAD (Next-Generation Radar) weather data.

• While in cruise flight, it became necessary to deviate due to existing and building thunderstorms. ATC had advised me of the largest storm which I had visually…. I was also using XM downloaded NEXRAD weather information. When the NEXRAD data indicated it was safe to turn more northerly, I advised ATC that I was starting my turn…. I went IMC momentarily and when I broke out there was a large buildup at my twelve o’clock position. The main storm was still off to my right. I could see several breaks around the buildup and requested a climb to 10,000 feet in an attempt to remain visual on the buildup. I was unable to do so and encountered IMC. While IMC, I flew into a fast building area of weather that was joining up with the known cell to my right. I advised ATC of my dilemma and was very surprised to see how quickly the cell was developing. ATC vectored me through the safest part of it. I was using every method from my training — turning the autopilot off, slowing, and keeping the wings level. At one time, with climb power, I was descending at 1,500 feet per minute. I eventually exited the weather and looked out my right rear window to see the huge storm that was developing behind me. ATC advised that it had completely closed up. Only then did the NEXRAD downloaded weather update to reflect the actual conditions that existed. A meteorologist friend assisted me in downloading archived radar images that showed how fast these air mass cells/thunderstorms were developing and how I came close to being a statistic. I knew not to use the NEXRAD for storm penetration prevention, but did so in error. I am very lucky that the outcome was good…. The delay of the [NEXRAD] update with the speed of the buildup of these air mass thunderstorms resulted in an inaccurate pictorial that I was using to determine my route of flight.

NTSB Report #1

This NTSB report details how another PA-32 Pilot apparently relied on outdated NEXRAD weather information in an attempt to escape an area of rapidly developing thunderstorms.

The airplane was on a cross-country flight in level cruise at about 8,000 feet MSL when the pilot flew into an area of heavy rain showers. The pilot informed an Air Traffic Controller that he was diverting around an area of thunderstorms. The pilot last reported that he was in “bad” weather and was going to try to get out of it. Following that transmission, radio and radar contact was lost. A witness on the ground heard a sound resembling an explosion…. 

The main wreckage consisted of the entire airplane except for the left wing, vertical stabilizer, rudder, and the right wing tip fuel tank. Those components were located about 200 feet north-northeast of the main wreckage. An examination of the left wing spar showed that the wing failed in positive overload. A weather study of conditions in the area at the time of the accident indicated the potential for heavy rain showers, thunderstorms, wind in excess of 45 knots, clear air turbulence, and low-level wind shear…. The pilot had a global positioning system (GPS) unit with a current subscription for Next-Generation Radar (NEXRAD).

The GPS unit owner’s manual states that NEXRAD weather data should be used for “long-range planning purposes only,” and should not be used to “penetrate hazardous weather” as the NEXRAD data is not real-time. 

On June 19, 2012, the NTSB issued a Safety Alert to warn pilots using in-cockpit flight information services broadcasts (FIS-B) and satellite weather display systems that the NEXRAD “age indicator” can be misleading. The actual NEXRAD data can be as much as 20 minutes older than the age indication on the display in the cockpit. If misinterpreted, this difference in time can present potentially serious safety hazards to aircraft operating in the vicinity of fast-moving and quickly developing weather systems. The NTSB determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: The pilot’s inadvertent encounter with severe weather, which resulted in the airplane’s left wing failing in positive overload. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s reliance on outdated weather information that he received on his in-cockpit Next-Generation Radar (NEXRAD).

Event #2

Aircraft: C182 
Situation: Carburetor icing

ASRS Report #2

“The Engine Stopped Running”

A C182 Pilot learned that severe carburetor ice can form even though no airframe icing is seen. The Pilot was lucky to break out of the clouds and restart the engine.

• We were at 12,000 feet on an instrument flight plan in communication with Approach. The Controller directed us to descend and maintain 9,000 feet. Flight conditions were IMC, -4 degrees C, and no airframe icing was being encountered. We reduced throttle in order to descend and within a few seconds of reducing throttle, the engine stopped running. After completing the Engine Failure Checklist, with no success, we declared an emergency with Approach…. We continued on our present heading with the intent of making an emergency landing at a nearby CTAF airport…. Upon further discussion with the Controller, however, we elected to head for a nearby Class D airport…. As we descended (still in IMC) we were able to restart the engine…. We continued to descend towards the airport and broke out of the clouds into VMC at approximately 4,800 feet…. 

It is clear that this engine failure incident was caused by severe carburetor ice — just below the freezing level, in clouds, with visible ice crystals. Although the ice crystals were not of the type that created airframe ice (no airframe ice was reported in our area), it was ideal for causing carburetor ice, which built up more rapidly than we were able to clear using carburetor heat.

NTSB Report #2

An NTSB report recounts how another C182 Pilot experienced carburetor icing, but was unable to restart the engine and wound up losing his airplane in a tree.

The pilot received a weather briefing from FSS the evening before departure and a friend at the destination told him that the area had been free of fog for the last several days. Upon descent to 1,500 feet at the destination, he could not spot the airport due to a fog layer. He decided to divert to his alternate. After turning toward the alternate airport, the engine began to run roughly. The pilot was unable to remedy the power loss by applying carburetor heat, switching fuel tanks, leaning the mixture, and checking the magnetos in the both position. As he turned back toward his original destination airport, the engine continued to run rough and he was unable to arrest the airplane’s descent. He was just above the fog layer, saw the runway through the fog, and turned back to the runway. During the turn, he went into the fog and the airplane collided with treetops and lodged in branches. The occupants noticed fire in the floorboard area, exited through the pilot’s door, and jumped to the ground. The fuselage was consumed by fire…. 

The NTSB determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: A loss of engine power due to carburetor icing and the pilot’s failure to use carburetor heat in conditions conducive to icing.




Safe Landings - November 2012

When Autopilots Go Bad

The three “loss of aircraft control” events in this Callback share a common factor – an autopilot malfunction. Thankfully, they also share a common result in that the pilots involved were able to recover from the resulting loss of control.

According to the FAA, loss of control (LOC) has accounted for more than 1,100 GA accidents in the last decade. That statistic alone should be incentive to heed the “lessons learned” in the following reports.

“A Serious Attitude Issue”

Having experienced a similar autopilot failure in another aircraft, this Mooney M20 pilot quickly recognized the problem, but still had a “struggle” to regain control.

• There was no ground reference because the layer below was around 4,000 feet and no sky reference because of a high layer… I was looking out the pilot window inspecting for ice when I noticed a slight change in the engine speed. The engine instruments read normal, then I noticed a precession on the [horizon indicator]. Just as I noticed this, the autopilot kicked off and the plane shot up hard and fast… I instantly knew what had happened because I’ve owned another Mooney that had an autopilot failure and runaway trim. The plane was in a climbing, unusual attitude. Center called me inquiring about my altitude…and asked if I needed help… I decided that I needed to ignore Center for now and concentrate on recovering the plane, which was now in a dive. I neutralized the trim, then referenced the directional gyro and stopped the turn and finally pulled gently out of the dive. When the plane was recovered, I could see a few house lights straight down… so I descended to VMC to organize myself. Just at that time someone called my tail number and asked my position and altitude. I responded that I was at 1,500 feet, but said nothing about my position because I hadn’t reset my GPS or looked at my position. The relay pilot called again and said that Center was concerned about my low altitude and wanted me to climb up to 2,400 feet. When I climbed I went IMC and I could tell I had a serious case of vertigo, which felt unsafe so I descended again to VMC. Several more calls were made from Center through relay pilots and then Center made it to my frequency asking that I climb again. I felt frustrated that I was repeatedly asked to do this, but I made a decision that I was going to stay visual because I had decent forward visibility, ground reference, and I was safe. Having ground reference also made my vertigo subside… [Ed note: The reporter was able to continue on to the original destination (but then had to contend with an emergency gear extension procedure) and concluded the report with the following remarks about unusual attitude recovery.] Something that probably helped with the runaway trim and unusual attitude was recent training for a tailwheel endorsement that included slow flight and unusual attitude recovery training. After this event I’m quite sure I’m going to keep a routine of going out under the hood with an instructor and practicing recovery techniques. That’s very inexpensive insurance.

Experimental Excitement

This loss of control event, presented from an Air Traffic Controller’s perspective, highlights the team effort that helped to ensure a successful outcome for the pilot of an Experimental/Homebuilt.

• I accepted a hand-off from South Departure, a VFR Experimental at 10,500 feet. Since the aircraft was close to my boundary and about 18 miles from the next sector’s boundary, I initiated a hand-off to the next sector. After a few minutes, I heard the South Departure Controller trying to contact the Experimental. I looked at the tag and noticed that it was no longer displaying an altitude read out… The tag was still being tracked because I had it in hand-off status. I took the hand-off back to see if it was a radar tracking issue… The South Departure Controller tried to get a nearby Air Carrier to reach the pilot with no luck. I used Guard frequency to try to raise him. A few seconds later we saw the 7700 code pop up and the emergency sound from the STARS (Standard Terminal Automated Replacement System) display alert. I attempted again to reach the pilot on Guard and had him “ident.” After seeing the “ident,” I had him switch to my frequency. I tried to reach him with no luck and also asked a near by VFR aircraft if he was able to hear him respond. The pilot could not hear him. I tried again and this time got a response from the pilot. He, with very heavy breathing, said that he had an emergency and, “Everything is okay now.” I asked his altitude and he replied 4,200 feet. After a few more routine questions I gave him a squawk and asked if he was squawking altitude. He replied that there may have been some damage to other equipment. I asked what kind of damage he had experienced and what caused the damage (bird strike or something else). He replied that it was an autopilot issue with a slipped trim wheel. I asked his intentions. He replied that he wanted to go to ZZZ… As he was about to leave my airspace, I noticed that he was almost twenty degrees off course. I corrected his heading and gave a briefing to the Class B Tower Controller regarding his situation… I was informed that the pilot landed safely and that the autopilot was giving him trouble so he disabled it only to find that the trim wheel had slipped and pushed the aircraft into a nose dive. He was experiencing negative and positive G’s that were making it difficult for the pilot and his passenger to regain control. He finally did at around 4,000 feet. He had hit his head on the canopy and broke his headset and some other equipment. He also noticed that one of the latches to the canopy was bent so he was holding it shut during the flight… Team work was the key here. The use of Guard, other pilots, and situational awareness helped in determining the location of the aircraft and the correct method of getting the pilot calm and under control.

“Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”

The pilot of an unidentified Experimental aircraft had his hands full when a new, integrated autopilot malfunctioned. As Dave learned with the Hal 90002, it is best to cut off all power to a system that starts to develop “a mind of its own.”

• A stand-alone autopilot had been removed and replaced with the new fully integrated unit. Everything had been bench tested and checked out… I was returning to [home base]. Weather was VMC, however I filed IFR to expedite leaving the [busy metropolitan] area. The autopilot functioned okay upon leveling at 10,000 feet, however it was “hunting for heading.” As I started my descent, the autopilot developed a mind of its own, [and] was searching for the altitude that I had pre-set in the EFIS (Electronic Flight Information System), which was driving the new autopilot. The servos were “pulsating” the control stick and I could not stop it. I slowed my descent and airspeed to try to diagnose the problem. I decided to divert to [a nearby airport] as I knew there were facilities there in the event I developed further problems. I contacted Approach and they cleared me to 7,000 feet on a heading to the airport. The autopilot would not level at 7,000 and deviated about 500 feet low as I fought the stick to stop the oscillations. Then it zoomed up to about 7,300 feet. The stick was fighting me and during the button pushing while trying to control the autopilot, I somehow lost contact with Approach Control…. I finally managed to get the autopilot off, called Approach again and they cleared me for the visual. Once the EFIS shut the autopilot off, everything returned pretty much to normal. The remaining approach and landing were uneventful except that my body was shaking…In retrospect, when the first issues developed, I should have canceled IFR and continued VFR. I tried the master “Off” switch as well as the “Off” switch on the stick, to no avail. As a result, I wasted valuable time as I was caught off guard by the events. ATC was very professional…. Inasmuch as it was VMC, I probably should have pulled the circuit breaker on the EFIS (which drives the autopilot), but I was hesitant to as I would have lost all navigation functions. I have developed a habit of always flying the plane by myself for at least an hour after it comes out of maintenance before ever letting anyone else fly with me. This event strengthened my reasoning for doing that.

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