Safe Landings - April 2013

It has been said that the only voluntary act in aviation is the decision to take-off. Every action after take-off involves the skillful management of risk, the enjoyment of flight and a continuous stream of decisions that result in a safe landing.

In 1974, NASA created the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) to allow aviation professionals to share experiences in a frank, non-punitive manner. The ASRS structure allows pilots and other aviation professionals to file an anonymous report of an incident, error or occurrence that the contributor feels might be of value to others. These reports are gathered, analyzed and data based by NASA experts and made available to all interested parties as a tool for creating pro-active aviation safety programs. Additionally, NASA distributes an electronic publication, CALLBACK, which contains selected, de-identified, reports on a free subscription basis. In Flight USA is proud to reprint selected reports, exerted from CALLBACK, for our readers to read, study, occasionally laugh at, and always learn from. Visit to learn how you can participate in the ASRS program.

Rotorcraft Roundup

We’ve corralled a few helicopter reports since the last “Roundup” and present them here for the benefit of all hands. While helicopters and fixed wing aircraft may differ in form and function, most of the basic principles of safe operation apply to both. So, no matter what sort of rig you’re riding, everyone in the outfit should be able to wrangle a lesson or two from this roundup of ASRS helicopter reports.

Put Your Boots on Before You Saddle Up

Distractions, including a lack of boots, caused this MD-500 Pilot to forget a critical item in gettin’ the rig ready.

• At the beginning of the shift, I performed the pre-flight inspection of the aircraft and noted that the fuel level was down below 300 pounds and was going to need to be topped off. Normally when an aircraft is left down for fuel, the crew leaving it down is supposed to leave a placard on the instrument panel alerting other crews of the fuel situation. In this case there was no placard left on the panel. Due to the hot weather, I performed the pre-flight inspection in my civilian clothes (shorts and T-shirt). Once I pushed the aircraft out of the hangar, I decided it would be better to fuel the aircraft once I had my flight suit and boots on, in case fuel was spilled while fueling. I left the aircraft without a placard on the panel and went inside to change my clothes.

Once I changed into my flight suit, I was distracted by administrative details inside the office and forgot to go back out and fuel the aircraft. Approximately one hour later, we took off on a mission and I failed to note the reduced fuel state. I believed that I had a full tank of fuel and I was only planning on flying for one hour. A full tank of fuel will normally allow two hours of flight time with a reserve. About an hour into the flight I noticed a yellow caution light briefly flicker. I pressed the “Test” button and realized the light was the “Low Fuel” caution light. It was indicating below 100 pounds of fuel. Realizing that I had forgotten to fuel the aircraft prior to departure, I turned toward the airport and reduced power, but then I decided to make a precautionary landing in a suitable area rather than risk having a flameout trying to make it back.
Upon noting the low fuel state during pre-flight, I should have immediately put fuel in the aircraft so that it was mission ready. To alleviate this situation in the future, I should always pre-flight the aircraft in the proper clothing so if the aircraft needs to be serviced I will be able to take care of the situation immediately. Another option is I could have left a placard on the panel upon noticing the low fuel state, which would have reminded me prior to takeoff that the fuel level was low.

Clouds Along the Trail

Stumblin’ into IMC is often cited as a factor in weather related incidents and accidents. Getting a thorough pre-flight weather briefing along with making contingency plans can go a long way toward easin’ the effects of weather. This helicopter wrangler learned just how quickly a change in the weather can result in a change of plans.

• The weather [was] clear; visibility 10 miles…Enroute I noted a broken ceiling at 900-1,000 feet. [At] 1,500 feet I noted extensive cloud/fog cover below on the route of flight [and] I was unable to maintain visual contact with the ground. [I] elected to return to the point of departure.

Deteriorating conditions were encountered about 40 minutes from the departure airport. I checked weather at [a nearby airport] which showed broken at 1,200 feet. Upon arrival, however, conditions were solid overcast and deteriorating. After conversing with the Tower, I elected to declare an emergency due to my fuel state and the need to descend through the clouds. The helicopter is not IFR equipped and I am not instrument rated. I descended through the clouds, breaking out at about 1,000 feet AGL and landed without further incident.

A TRACON Controller gave the ATC perspective on the same incident.

• The airport was reporting a marginal VFR ceiling of 1,000 feet overcast. A helicopter called about 25 miles West of the airport inbound with the ATIS. I vectored him for sequence and…then told him to resume his own navigation to the airport. I called him three times, giving him the location of the airport. He did not answer until the third call and he said that he couldn’t see the airport because there were some clouds between him and the airport. I told him to maintain VFR and contact the Tower. A couple of minutes later, the Tower called me and advised that the aircraft was an emergency with low fuel and unable to get down. I checked with three other aircraft in my airspace looking for a hole in the clouds, but none were found. The crash crew responded and other traffic was broken off of the approach behind him as he maneuvered down through the clouds.

I had worked the helicopter for about 25 miles. He said that he had the ATIS with the reported overcast layer. He accepted traffic calls and said he was looking for traffic. At no point did he indicate any fuel criticality nor did he mention that he might have any issue descending. Only once did he mention clouds between him and the airport. I assumed this was a small scud deck that he expected not to be an issue. The pilot should have mentioned his concern with the weather much earlier. It goes without saying that the pilot should have checked the weather before getting airborne and taken on sufficient fuel.

A Wild Ride

Two fella’s hitched up an R22, wandered into some weather, went for a wild ride and wound up headin’ straight for the ground. Luckily they were able to rein in their helo and set ‘er down in a pasture.

• My student and I departed…on a cross country flight under VFR conditions…after the fog had cleared. The clouds were high and we could see for miles on end. We flew GPS direct…and [then] the clouds got lower, going from 1,000 feet to 600 feet AGL. There was also some fog near the ground that was thinning. We decided to proceed North…around protected airspace…and then head West towards [an] airport which was reporting better weather. We were able to maintain VFR cloud separation at 300 feet AGL until we reached the northern tip of the protected airspace where we hit some low, dense fog.

Knowing that there was better weather nearby, my student and I continued onward, flying a gradual descent to stay clear of the clouds. We reached a point at about 200 feet AGL where we could no longer fly any lower due to the terrain and tall trees and decided to turn around and abandon our cross country. As we began the turn, we entered the clouds and inadvertently went into IMC. Since we couldn’t see any obstructions around us we decided to also climb back up to 400 feet AGL to avoid hitting anything in the turn. We then became disoriented and soon afterwards we came out of the clouds with the nose pointed straight down. I recovered from the pushover and landed in a field nearby to assess any damage to the helicopter. Upon finding no appreciable damage, we flew the helicopter directly back to [our home field].

In hindsight we should have abandoned the cross country sooner instead of pushing on into the clouds. Had we decided to land at the intermediate airport or turn around to go back home, we wouldn’t have entered the clouds and become disoriented.


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.



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