The Canadian Transportation Safety Board has recently published it’s accident investigation report of a PA-34-200T (Piper Seneca) at CYBW (Calgary/Springbank, Alberta). One can read all the simple details on the Canadian TSB report. My hearth is broken. An apparently perfect aircraft on the take-off phase, in ideal training flight conditions crashes vertically after a severe turn to the left at 250 feet AGL. Not long ago, I had to deal with a much similar event as a flying friend perished under similar condition of a low altitude spin, the only difference was in the arrival flight phase.
The aerodynamic condition of spins has been well studied and documented since the dawn of flying. Yet the annual statistics still deplore a vast quantity of events. It is the why part, I cannot grasp. We train ab initio pilots with this aspect of flying through flight theory, briefings, demonstrations, practice, more briefings sometimes with less than cool comments emanating from the instructor’s seat. There is a reason for this: imprudent low speed and low altitude handling combined are very disruptive to life expectancy.
It is not the scope on this post to rewrite yet a new flying manual, but I will certainly suggest the 3 most fundamental items to uneventful long aviation career:
SPEED, SPEED, SPEED.
A wing flying, angle of attack below the stall angle, will not spin, period. Until we get AOA sensors installed on all general aviation aircraft like military and airliners, the closest flight parameter to evaluate AOA is indicated airspeed.
Why would anyone attempt twin engine aircraft engine failure training below 500 feet or even 800 feet all the while leaving the airspeed bleeding back, I do not understand. Situational awareness here, ie below 1000′ should be maximum, no matter how at ease one feel’s about being airborne.
After the accident of our friend which occurred in one of the best modern design glider, we went through all data at hand. An actual spin training occurred months before, a flight data logger of the studied flight and others accomplished by our friend were displayed. We also had an inflight video made on the very same aircraft, by an experienced flight instructor, demonstrating a half spin followed by full recovery. Keep in mind the demo was done at a very safe (high) altitude and the instructor needless to say was very much situationally aware AND prepared: 600 feet were required to recover the aircraft. Add the Sully factor here (see previous post) and a few hundred feet may be added to the finding. Think about it: a glider ranking in the very best performing in the world (a pure joy to fly by the way) requiring 600 feet to recover? Can we claim better recovery from our favorite aluminium or even composite “heavy’s”?
If anyone believes in his/her comfort while in the circuit, think again. Humanity has demonstrated to be self-destroying based on beliefs. The circuit is where one transition’s from high speed * to low speed and descending altitude. Easy enough but this is where your SA warning system should be conducting major voltage in the seating. Being on high alert (not edging on paranoia) below 1 000 feet AGL is never stressed enough in our training.
If a pilot is tired (sleep deprived and/or exhausted from a long flight), is dehydrated (happens often) or is hypoglycemic, no matter how good a stick and rudder pilot one is, the insidious partial incapacitation may set in, the symptoms are many. Pilot irrational behaviour may set in perhaps partly explaining the « why » mentionned earlier. Complacency may also set in for instructors gratified with quick learning students. Ladies, gentlemen we owe our students, no matter how good they are, to be fully ready to intervene in order to « bring back » our flight in the « white zone » as opposed to grey one going black.
Everyone knows perfectly what to do to recover from a spin. You do right? Better yet, what are the symptoms/conditions of an impending spin and what should be done to correct easily? The low time twin pilots have a few more capital factors to consider. For the few licensed types out there that actually hire an instructor to get a non compulsory check ride, tip of the hat. Granted, it never feels too good to be « corrected/debriefed » on those flights especially on items you think you were doing well. It is a normal reaction, please keep in focus your instructor really want’s you to be perfect with all the flight maneuvers: your safety is at stake. Currency and proficiency are perishable qualities.
*To my friend, a retired F-18 driver: gimme a break, please.