The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the general aviation (GA) community’s national #FlySafe campaign helps educate GA pilots about the best practices to calculate and predict aircraft performance and to operate within established aircraft limitations.
A Loss of Control (LOC) accident involves an unintended departure of an aircraft from controlled flight. LOC can happen when the aircraft enters a flight regime that is outside its normal flight envelope and quickly develops into a stall or spin. It can introduce an element of surprise for the pilot.
Why Should I Monitor?
“Well, I thought I could do that….” If you are lucky enough to survive an accident and make that statement, you are very fortunate indeed.
Accident investigators say a pilot’s unrealistic expectation of the aircraft’s performance, especially when that aircraft operates at the edge of its weight and balance capabilities cause some accidents.
Don’t be fooled. The General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC) Loss of Control Work Group suggests every pilot will benefit by understanding how to calculate aircraft performance.
Let’s have a look.
How Do You Monitor Your GA Aircraft’s Performance?
Most GA aircraft do not have the dedicated automated flight data recording devices that the commercial operators have, but there are other ways to monitor performance.
Today, some manufacturers are offering self-contained flight data and visual data recorders for GA airplanes and helicopters.
But, even without dedicated equipment, pilots can track engine power, fuel flow, oil temperature and pressure:
- Panel-mounted GPS systems and many hand-held units are capable of recording position, heading, speed, and altitude.
- Engine monitors may have recording capability.
- Oil analysis will gauge engine health, and, more importantly, prevent potentially catastrophic failures.
- Some aircraft, especially helicopters, are equipped with chip detectors that can forecast engine and transmission failures in time for a safe landing.
Three Important Questions
When we talk about aircraft performance, we’re looking at three basic needs:
- How much can I haul?
- How far can I go?
- How long will it take me to get to my destination?
These aren’t simple questions, because you, the pilot, have to consider a few variables before you arrive at an answer.
Start with the Basics
- When planning a flight, decide how much weight you want to haul, and where you want to take it.
–Start with the crew and passengers, then, add cargo. If you have already exceeded your aircraft’s capability, you’ll have to trim the passenger count, reduce the cargo, make multiple trips, or get a bigger aircraft.
- Next, you’ll need to figure out how much fuel you can take, and after you consult the weather, you’ll figure out how far you can go.
- If you have enough fuel to get to your destination plus an alternate airport, plus reserve, you’re good.
- Next, run a weight-and-balance calculation to make sure you’re operating within the weight and balance limitations of your aircraft.
- Think about takeoff and landing.
- Consider your departure and arrival airport runway lengths, obstructions, and expected density altitude.
- If the field is short and/or obstructed, you may not be able to fly safely with a full load.
- Last, but far from least, make sure YOU are up to the task. Pilot skill and experience count for a lot.
- Be conservative when you calculate your performance and consider adding a safety factor.
- Some pilots add 50-percent to their takeoff and landing calculations for safety.
Yes, YOU Are the Most Important Variable
Now, it’s all up to you. The calculations won’t mean much if you, the pilot, can’t duplicate them in your flying.
That’s why it’s critical that you document your personal performance capability at least once a year with your flight instructor.
Fly at a typical mission weight, and try to duplicate or simulate mission density altitudes. This exercise will help you become familiar with what you — and your aircraft — can do.
Finally, be sure to establish a baseline performance level for both you and your aircraft. Be aware that factors like fatigue (physical) or high-density altitude (environmental) can often result in performance below this baseline. On the flip side, proficiency training and lighter loading can often mean performance above this baseline.
Bottom line: know your limitations and always assess (and reassess) how you and your aircraft will perform on any given flight.
More about Loss of Control:
Contributing factors may include:
- Poor judgment or aeronautical decision making
- Failure to recognize an aerodynamic stall or spin and execute corrective action
- Intentional failure to comply with regulations
- Failure to maintain airspeed
- Failure to follow procedure
- Pilot inexperience and proficiency
- Use of prohibited or over-the-counter drugs, illegal drugs, or alcohol
Did you know?
- From October 2016 through September 2017, 247 people died in 209 general aviation accidents.
- Loss of Control was the number one cause of these accidents.
- Loss of Control happens in all phases of flight. It can happen anywhere and at any time.
- There is one fatal accident involving Loss of Control every four days.
Check out the GA Safety Enhancement fact sheet on Engine Maintenance and Performance Monitoring. You can also learn more about the important steps you need to take after you’ve serviced your airplane with our fact sheet on Advanced Preflight After Maintenance. A full list of fact sheets is available at www.faa.gov/news/safety_briefing.
Learn how to debunk performance myths by reading “Urban Air Legends” in the May/June 2015 edition of the FAA Safety Briefing.
Advisory Circular 120-113, “Best Practices for Engine Time in Service Interval Extensions”gives the regulatory requirements for time limitations and time in service intervals for engine overhauls.
Time is getting short!!The FAA’s Equip ADS-B website gives you the information you need to equip now.
Curious about FAA regulations (Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations)? It’s a good idea to stay on top of them. You can find current FAA regulations on this website.
The FAASafety.gov website has Notices, FAAST Blasts, online courses, webinars, and more on key general aviation safety topics.
The WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program helps pilots build an educational curriculum suitable for their unique flight requirements. WINGS is based on the premise that pilots who maintain currency and proficiency in the basics of flight will enjoy a safer and more stress-free flying experience.
The General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC) is comprised of government and industry experts who work together to use data to identify risk, pinpoint trends through root cause analysis, and develop safety strategies to reduce the risk of GA accidents. The GAJSC combines the expertise of many key decision makers in the FAA, several government agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and stakeholder groups. Industry participants include the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, National Business Aviation Association, National Air Transportation Association, National Association of Flight Instructors, Society of Aviation and Flight Educators, and the aviation insurance industry. The National Transportation Safety Board and the European Aviation Safety Agency participate as observers.