It’s the holiday season again — a time when most folks are excited to celebrate faith, family, and friends. This year, as is my holiday tradition, I will highlight those reports made to NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System featuring extraordinary circumstances. The theme is “excited.”
Excited. What a great word. We use it every day without thinking much about its different permutations.
The pilot of a Cirrus SR22 experienced some excitement when flying his family — and not the good kind.
He was ending a flight with his wife and two children onboard. He’d been cleared to land by ATC and was on one-mile final approach when he was surprised to hear ATC clear another aircraft for takeoff.
“At first I thought I was surely mistaken, but when I saw the other aircraft start his roll, I reminded Tower that I was on short final,” he wrote in his report.
Instead of aborting the takeoff roll of the aircraft on the ground, ATC instructed the Cirrus pilot to perform either a 360 or a go-around. The Cirrus pilot elected to do a 360 instead of risking an NMAC by overflying the runway center line in a go-around. At this point, the pilot and his family were less than 300′ AGL, fully configured for landing with full flaps.
“Fortunately, I was able to apply full power and perform the 360, all the while just above stall speeds and barely clearing treetops. My wife was quite panicked, and I have to say that I wasn’t too excited about it either, especially with both of my kids in the back.”
He ended his NASA report by pointing out that the Tower controller never explained or apologized for causing such a dangerous maneuver.
One Cessna 152 flight instructor used the word in his NASA report to describe relief following an incident by one of his students. The CFI was supervising a student whose mission was to successfully complete his third solo flight. The flight was scheduled to last one hour.
“I let him preflight and I was there for part of it,” the CFI wrote.
Afterward, he checked his student’s work and then confirmed via the gauges that the tanks were half full. On this make and model, that equated to approximately two hours of flight time.
“Given that he has demonstrated proficiency in entering and leaving the practice area and that it was a one-hour flight, I released him to go flying.”
The student ended up flying for a total of 1.7 hours, but he ran out of fuel before making it back to the airport. The student adroitly made an off-airport landing.
In his report the CFI indicated he initially thought the incident might have been his own fault.
“Looking back at all my solos, except for my initial, I don’t recall my instructors doing preflight with me,” he wrote.
He checked the operating procedures for the Part 141 flight school where he instructed. Nothing in them mandated that CFIs supervise all solo preflights by their students.
Ultimately, the CFI concluded that the fuel exhaustion and off-airport landing incident were completely the student’s fault, and a hard lesson learned.
“Above all else, I am grateful that my student walked away from the aircraft unharmed and is excited to fly again.”
A DA-20 CFI used “excited” in describing reconnecting with one of his students.
“I was excited about flying with him again after not having flown for three weeks due to weather and scheduling,” he wrote. “He has good skills and is well-prepared.”
Their day started just after sunrise. The lesson was a dual cross country to two airports. The lesson went well enough that the CFI included a diversion to a third airport, where they landed. After a break, the two departed without refueling. The CFI then put his student under the hood for 30 minutes of practice IFR. The lesson over, the student climbed to cruise altitude and requested flight following from ATC for the trip home.
“At cruise, the engine sputtered and I took control of the aircraft,” the CFI wrote. “I turned the aux fuel pump on immediately. I looked at the fuel gauge, which read empty.”
He declared an engine failure emergency. ATC pointed him to an airport four miles directly ahead of them. They arrived at the approach end of the runway 1,000′ too high, so the CFI chose to fly a descending 360. Halfway into the maneuver he realized he’d lost too much altitude and wouldn’t make the runway.
At that moment a woman’s voice came over the radio: “The grass runway is available. The ground has been frozen for two days.”
The DA-20 was at 500′ AGL and in a downwind position for the grass strip, so the CFI made a normal approach and landing.
The CFI noted several takeaways from this incident. First, his enthusiasm for teaching the student overshadowed completing a visual check of the fuel tank on the ground at the diversion airport. Second, his hyper-focus on the elements of the lesson precluded him from periodic scans of the engine instrumentation.
“In the future I will strive to slow down in my teaching environment and follow up behind my students more closely.”
He felt slowing down would help him remember to maintain instrument scan discipline.
A PA-32 Cherokee Six pilot learned from his incident that getting a passenger overly excited by accident is not a good thing. The pilot and his passenger had just taken off from their departure airport. Still in the initial climb, it suddenly occurred to him the safety latch on the passenger-side door might not be secured.
“I asked my passenger what position the safety latch was at,” he reported. “Being a very nervous flyer, she got all excited and was yelling ‘Was it safe?’”
That turned into a frantic attempt to calm his passenger while also attempting to show her how to secure the safety latch.
“All this took my eyes away from the windscreen for about 8 to 10 seconds. When I refocused on flying, I saw I was very close to a group of trees, easily within 50′,” he wrote.
He immediately corrected by pulling aft on the yoke and climbing back up to an appropriate altitude. In his conclusion, he wrote that the incident was a stark reminder to fly the plane to a safe altitude first before worrying about other things.
A Robinson R-44 helicopter pilot learned the hard way excitement can lead to distraction. He was excited to take his friend and their partners on a sightseeing tour. During the preflight check, the friend kept asking questions. The pilot tried to conduct his preflight while answering the questions. In doing so, he misread his fuel gauges as mostly full when they were indicating mostly empty.
He did recognize how distracted he’d become. In fact, he even mentioned to his friend how important the preflight was and asked him to be quiet while he conducted a second preflight.
“Unfortunately, this time, I simply confirmed the gauges showed the same fuel level as before and did not check the tanks.”
The group departed for the sightseeing tour. Shortly after, the low fuel light illuminated. The pilot chose to slow the helicopter to 80 knots for fuel conservation purposes. He then scanned the area for a landing spot, chose a nearby airport, and landed without incident.
The pilot was so shaken by the incident he had his passengers driven to their intended dinner spot while he stayed behind, refueled the helicopter, and flew it solo back to base.
“I was excited and nervous for the flight. I allowed myself to be distracted and go through some of the motions,” he wrote. “I have now placed an emphasis on each and every step of the preflight. I will no longer allow distractions to be present while I am doing important safety work.”
A pilot of an experimental aircraft became so excited by coastal marine life that he failed to heed National Seashore altitude limits. The flight began as a personal recreational flight. He overflew a shoreline at about 2,500′. From that vantage he saw “a stunning, infinite stretch of miles and miles of continuous sea animals on the beach shore.”
Eager to get a closer look at this amazing, never-before-seen sight, he descended to about 250′ over the water and then came very close to the shore. He overflew the shoreline, circling several times to take in the masses of sea mammals before continuing his flight.
In his NASA report he wrote, “Later, I discovered that I was in violation of the National Seashore altitude requirements.”
He read the fine print on his chart and discovered something he’d not been aware of before: “It turns out that a little dotted line has 2,000′ limits!”
He concluded with the importance of always reading his charts closely so as not to violate federally designated airspace.
Now that’s something to get excited about. Referencing one’s charts. Happy holidays.