from-our-logbooks

I learnt more about flying from that … from an Australian B737 Captain

“I learnt more about flying from that experience …

We were arriving in Brisbane from the South for runway 19L via the STAR and the RW19L ILS. The weather was a broken cloud base of 3000’, wind southeasterly 15 to 25kt, and intermittent light showers. In short, a standard sort of Brisbane spring mid morning.”

This is the ninth article in a planned occasional series, sharing the most memorable and treasured experiences, not only from my own career : We plan to feature other, highly esteemed pilot friends and colleagues, who are only too willing to share their collective aviation experience.

Here, a great friend and esteemed former colleague – a B737-800 Captain – shares some valuable insights into making approaches in fluctuating, marginal instrument/visual meteorological conditions, that we can all apply to our own life experiences.

“After receiving the current aerodrome automatic terminal information service – ATIS – we briefed for a ‘company low visibility procedures‘, Captain-flown ILS approach. On the left base segment of the standard arrival procedure – STAR –  we became visual. We continued with the company low visibility procedures, however on intercepting the instrument landing system – ILS – runway centre line and glideslope, the autopilot was having a hard time managing the gusty crosswind.

As we were in visual contact with the runway, I changed to standard (visual) procedures, disconnected the autopilot, and began hand flying the approach to achieve a smoother ride for our passengers.

Halfway down the ILS I noticed a small, light shower developing to the southeast of the far end of the runway. This moved up towards us, and at approximately the height of the published minima (minimum instrument decision altitude) we flew into it.

The rain on the windshield immediately began to blur our vision, and the PAPI lights started to look a uniform pink colour (neither red nor white). I called for the windscreen wipers, however the rain increased to the point that I felt we were losing the required visibility.

As I went to press the TOGA (take-off/go-around) button to go around, we flew out of the back of the shower. I made a small flight path correction and we landed.

What did I learn?

1. Even very light rain showers can severely reduce visibility.

2. PAPI slope guidance cues can be rendered ineffective during a rain shower. Raw data, – attitude, thrust, and aim point need to be part of the plan.

3. If there is any rain activity anywhere near the airport, stick with the instrument approach rather than switching to a visual approach. That way you are better prepared and more predisposed to the real possibility of executing a missed approach. I had to rapidly re-evaluate our progress twice in a very short period of time.”

 

The bottom line from this real-world experience is that, having committed to a plan that can cover all contingencies in prevailing marginal circumstances, don’t abandon it for a less-capable alternative.

Furthermore, the effects of light refraction due to the rain on the windscreens should not be under-estimated.

Instrument procedures work fine in both IMC and VMC : Visual procedures are suitable only in VMC.

 

Happy Landings

 

Would you care to experience that unsurpassed sense of accomplishment, derived from executing consistently beautiful landings, more often?

Read what pilots of all levels of experience have to say about the Jacobson Flare technique and the App, on our Testimonials page.

Then download the COMPLETE Jacobson Flare app – for iOS or Android. You’re already possibly paying $300+/hour to hire an airplane : You’ll recover the cost of the app, in just ONE LESS-NEEDED CIRCUIT.

We invite you, also, to download our new, FREE companion app : the Jacobson Flare NEWS.

** NEW ** The Jacobson Flare Apps – for iOS

Download The Jacobson Flare for iOS devices now.

 

** NEW ** The Jacobson Flare Apps – for Android

Download The Jacobson Flare for Android now.

‘Mud or Mustard’ : by former Sqn Ldr Ralph Petritsch, F-18A Fighter Combat Instructor RAAF

You may well ask what the term ‘Mud or Mustard’ has to do with flying?

It does, in fact, have everything to do with being a fighter pilot. Well, these words form a key part of the catchcry echoed throughout the seat of air combat learning in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

This is the eighth article in a planned occasional series, sharing the most memorable and treasured experiences, not only from my own career : We plan to feature other, highly esteemed pilot friends and colleagues, who are only too willing to share their collective aviation experience.

Here, my great friend and colleague Ralph Petritsch, currently flying A330s, following an illustrious career as a fighter pilot and fighter combat instructor on the RAAF FA-18A ‘Hornet’ and USAF F-15E ‘Eagle‘ shares some valuable insights that we can all apply to our own life experiences. (Photo courtesy of RAAF Williamtown Photograhic Section © 1986)

RAAF Base Williamtown is situated just north of Newcastle on Australia’s east coast. It is there that the young men and women of Australia train to become a fighter pilot and where they strive to join the ranks of the RAAF’s airborne fighting elite.

The full catchcry:

MUD or MUSTARD, SHIT or BLOOD, GRIT YOUR TEETH AND STAY THERE!’

These few words embody an ethos that is taken on as a core value for generations of young Australians who aspire to don the mantle of ‘fighter pilot’ within the RAAF. Like a commandment, it is an idea which forms a guiding principle to those who strap tonnes of metal and composite to their back and hurl themselves through space at speeds approaching those of a bullet. Their primary pursuit – excellence – air combat excellence.

The philosophy behind this curious phrase is as follows:

No matter what adversity you face – never give up. No matter how difficult your situation is or how insurmountable your odds seem – don’t relent. No matter how fearful your predicament or dire your situation – apply yourself, persist and commit to a successful outcome.

It may seem a little ‘gung-ho’, but this mindset is an essential one to have if you are to succeed in the incomprehensibly dynamic world of modern air combat. It is a world in which the earth tumbles violently around you, as you and your fighting-machine hurtle through the atmosphere at thousands of kilometres per hour, testing the very limits of pilot and machine, in an attempt to prosecute a designated target.

Some of the greatest air aces in history have attested to this way of thinking and affirmed that these principles were the difference, often, between success and failure in an air combat environment. That and perhaps the odd smattering of luck. Remember though, the harder you work – the luckier you get!

There is also the famous fighter pilot expression – ‘In air combat, there are no points for second place!’ Success in an air combat environment can be measured in many ways. Principally – you must win! Kill the bandit before he kills you and live to fight another day. Don’t die for your country, make the other pilot die for his!

In essence, these statements are fundamental truths, but the reality involves much, much more… Bring your weapons to bear on your chosen target efficiently and accurately. Prosecute your attack with conviction, without endangering yourself or your teammates. Maintain situational awareness of, and mutual support for, your wingman. A competent fighter pilot has to be effective, efficient, safe and reliable. I measured my own success as a fighter pilot against these core capabilities.

Adoption of, and belief in, the principles of ‘Mud or Mustard’ was instrumental in my success as a fighter pilot and has also had a profound impact on other areas of my life. This simple concept has provided inspiration during difficult times and become my benchmark attitude when tackling any challenges set before me. As I hope you’ll appreciate, being a fighter pilot is as much about this attitude, as it is about flying fast jets.

I am now long-retired from the RAAF and the outrageously dynamic world of air combat. However, my years of service to this great country taught me that with a commitment to sound processes, diligent application to training, focused attention to the execution of any task assigned to me and a determined attitude – ‘Mud or Mustard’ – anything is achievable.

Since leaving the Service, I have been drawn to people, practices and pursuits that apply the ‘Mud or Mustard’ philosophy. My love of flying has not waned and in furthering my aviation career, I have sought out the processes that are readily adaptable to the aforementioned attitude and which make the art of flying effective, efficient, safe and reliable.

One of the processes which I have found that lends itself well to the ‘Mud or Mustard’ concept is David Jacobson’s flare technique. It is simple to understand, precise, exacting and repeatable. As I have frequently found, if you take the time to read and understand a foolproof concept, practise it diligently and consistently apply it, it will serve you well and enhance your capabilities. I commend The Jacobson Flare to anyone who finds the practise of landing an aircraft a challenge or who, even if they have been landing successfully for years, just wants to better understand what they are doing and unlock the secret of how to execute landings with more finesse. Think of it as striving for – excellence – landing excellence!

Upon being made aware of the technique, by David himself, during one of my flights – crewing with him on a Boeing 737 – it was obvious to me that he had designed, developed and implemented a process that works. Every landing can be set up, executed and scrutinised later with accuracy and precision. The logical flow through: consistent and safe landings every time.

That I would adopt the Jacobson Flare as a standard tool in my flying toolbox was inevitable. It was right up my ‘fighter pilot alley‘. I have been using it ever since, on every landing, on every aeroplane that I have flown, from the smallest light sport aircraft through to the 250 tonne Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Don’t just take my word for it. Get the app, read it, apply it and, with a bit of ‘Mud or Mustard’, watch how your landing technique improves. Honestly, you’ll wonder why nobody had solved the landing riddle, the way David has, before now.

In summing up, I was fortunate to have experienced the ‘tip of the aviation spear’ during operations in the fighter world. But flying fighters was as much about adopting a positive mental attitude and applying good processes, as it was about flying fast jets. These characteristics carry through to everyday life and are relevant to any aircraft you might choose to fly. To be a fighter pilot, you have to fly fighters, but anyone can have a fighter pilot attitude:

MUD or MUSTARD, SHIT or BLOOD, GRIT YOUR TEETH AND STAY THERE!

 

 

Would you care to experience that unsurpassed sense of accomplishment, derived from executing consistently beautiful landings, more often?

Read what pilots of all levels of experience have to say about the Jacobson Flare technique and the App, on our Testimonials page.

Then download the COMPLETE Jacobson Flare app – for iOS or Android. You’re already possibly paying $300+/hour to hire an airplane : You’ll recover the cost of the app, in just ONE LESS-NEEDED CIRCUIT.

And download our new, FREE companion app : the Jacobson Flare NEWS.

** NEW ** The Jacobson Flare Apps – for iOS

Download The Jacobson Flare for iOS devices now.

 

** NEW ** The Jacobson Flare Apps – for Android

Download The Jacobson Flare for Android now.

 

‘Just sayings…’ Building pilots’ resilience in aviation

Over the years, one picks up many pearls of wisdom that shape our rapport with aviation : They could be gems offered by other pilots; they may come from something you read, perhaps from another’s own experience; or events that you experience, yourself, along the way.

In recent discussion, topics such as decision-making, threat and error management and embracing long-established standard operating procedures (SOPs) and cockpit resource management (CRM) have been floated past me. These essential yet sometimes intangible subjects can perhaps be included under the generic title, ‘building resilience’. It seems appropriate, therefore, to share some of the ‘HOW’ to achieve some basic understanding of all this by recalling some ‘pearls’ that made themselves known to me along the way, since 1965.

This is the seventh article in a planned occasional series, sharing some most memorable and treasured experiences. This one is another from my own career : We do plan to feature other highly esteemed pilot friends and colleagues, who are only too willing to share their collective aviation experience. The crucial lessons that we learned along the way are just as valid today. They contribute, in no small way, to that intangible but essential quality known in aviation as ‘airmanship’.

Where possible, I shall acknowledge the sources of this collection of acquired wisdom that has served me well, not only in aviation, but in everyday life, as well. I commend it, especially, to inspire pilots just starting out. So, in no particular order:

 

Personal accountability

In 1965, my first flight instructor explained, “There is no excuse for a taxying accident.” He was so right.

Not much later, my Chief Flying Instructor (CFI) offered some sage advice: “When you’ve flown 100 hours, you’ll think you know it all; when you’ve gained 200 hours, you’ll know you know it all; and when you’ve reached 2000 hours, you’ll know you’ll never know it all!’  Well, even after 24,500 hours and 56 years exposure, I still feel like I just scratched the surface.

My CFI was the legendary ‘Jock’ Garden and he added this little gem after an assessment flight, when I had completed my first 3 hours of instrument flight training:

David, there are very few born instrument pilots – and you are not one of them!” As an 18-yo, that was somewhat deflating, but again, he was right: I really had to work at it.

Around 22 years later, in 1987, I was by now a (line) training captain and Jock was a passenger on my Trans-Australia Airlines’ (TAA) DC-9-30, flying from Melbourne to Adelaide and made it known that he was ‘down the back’. Naturally, I invited him up the flight deck for a quick chat (this was long before ‘9-11‘) and he remained with us for our descent and landing. After shutdown, I reminded him of his 1965 assessment of my instrument flying skills:

“Well”, he said, with a broad grin, “it must have worked. Look where you are, now!”

 

Through the B737-800 HUD : heading West, climbing to FL 400, at M 0.785 : Competency in instrument flying had its own rewards    © dj image

 

Common sense

There are some self-explanatory and sobering oldies and goodies, like, “The runway behind you, like the altitude above you and the fuel remaining in the tanker, are of no further use to you“, which do stimulate sound flight planning.

Upon my timely retirement from Qantas Airways Ltd, in February 2010, in a note of farewell published in the company’s flight ops newsletter, I summarised the ‘BIG 4’, of all the lessons I learned since 1965, including 40 years of airline flying:

Know when to go sick -Are you fit to fly? This includes personal issues, as well as medical; seek support and/or professional help;
Know when to go around  Don’t succumb to ‘press-on-itis’ – we rarely get a good landing off a bad approach;
Know when to divert or to turn back – If VFR-limited, you cannot teach yourself to fly on instruments in the last 30 seconds of your life; and
Know when to go – Be self-aware of your own limitations and bow out gracefully, before having to be reminded by others, or failing that last, one-too-many simulator or route checks.

 

Professional standards

In the second article in this series, ‘The best advice I was ever offered : from the best pilot I ever flew with’, published 7 July 2020, I referred, primarily, to Captain Geoff Lushey, who advised me, back in 1970, “It doesn’t matter when something goes wrong – What matters is what you do about it!‘. The same article includes a quotable quote from Captain Col Tiller, another very intelligent and perceptive TAA pilot. He told our cohort of inductees to TAA, earlier that same year, “When you pass a check, it only means you’ve been operating safely for the last 6 months: it has no bearing, whatsoever, on the next 6. On the other hand, if you fail a check, you haven’t just had a bad day: you’ve been unsafe for the last 6 months!I proved him dead right: read the article (from the link above, or the JF News App), for the details!

In 1971, as a 23-yo and just one year into my airline career with TAA, I had the opportunity to convert from the Fokker F27 Friendship to the McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30, my first jet. We completed the engineering and full-flight simulator courses in Melbourne, but the airline was still taking delivery of the type and couldn’t spare any aircraft off-line, for training purposes. We had, instead, the privilege of completing the 10-hour base flying component of the conversion with Hawaiian Airlines, based in Honolulu. (A tough gig, but someone had to do it!). My instructor was Captain Howard Phillips, Hawaiian’s most senior pilot and instructor. In just 2 years, I had leapt from flying a Cessna 337 with a maximum take-off weight of 4300lbs/1950kg, to the F27 at 43,500lb/19,731kgs and now the DC-9 at 100,000lbs/45,360kg. They were big steps.

I explained how I’d struggled a bit, initially, in the DC-9 simulator, trying not to over-control with aileron and rudder on asymmetric take-offs (simulated engine failures and fires). He responded, “Oh, a lot of our guys do that, too and you know what I tell ’em? I tell ’em to hold that ‘pole‘ (meaning all of the flight controls) like you’re tryin’ to milk a mouse (meaning very, very gently)!” Some homespun philosophy, perhaps, but it conveyed the message – and it sure works!

Captain Howard Phillips had another gem, too; perfect for those occasions when you realise your ‘mental-workload-required‘ is starting to exceed your ‘brain-power-available‘:  “When you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s sometimes real (sic) difficult to remember that your initial aim was to drain the swamp!

 

Non-normal situations

As a kid, I recall Walt Disney hosting a TV episode of Disneyland and quoting Davy Crockett – the legendary US Frontiersman & Congressman. According to Disney, Crockett’s motto was, ‘Be sure you’re right – and then go ahead.’

Interestingly, when TAA introduced their initial and pioneering version of CRM, (which they termed Aircrew Team Management (ATM) in 1984, part of our training involved a problem-solving model known by its acronym, ‘S-A-D-I-E‘. The initials stood for the following steps and they expand on Davy Crockett’s motto:

Share the information available;
Analyse the information;
Develop a solution;
Implement the solution;
Evaluate the solution.

If the solution is not successful, repeat the last 3 steps, several times if necessary.

Along the way, in simulator training and licence checks, I learned the essential quality of sometimes ‘sitting on my hands’: in other words, not acting impulsively or precipitously. When suffering the loss of power or thrust, in a twin-engine airplane, it’s obviously vital NOT to shut down the wrong engine: it gets very quiet, very quickly! And, sadly, it has been done many times, with fatal consequences. The point is beautifully illustrated by a piece I read once, from a USAF test pilot:

When something does go wrong in an airplane, the very first thing I do is to start a stopwatch; it meets two fundamental human requirements:

It satisfies the intuitive urgency within us to do something immediately; and
It’s relatively harmless!

 

Operational pressures

In the airline environment and, I dare say, in the GA and military sectors, too, commercial and operational factors often place great pressure on pilots-in-command, to ‘get going’, often against their better judgment. When that pressure occurs, it’s vital to make a deliberate effort to slow down, ‘start that stopwatch’ and carefully apply the effective ‘S-A-D-I-E’ model.

A dispatch officer or company manager probably doesn’t have the full picture that you do. Remember that, when things go wrong, after departure, the responsibility for ‘everything’ rests with the pilot in command. Younger and less experienced commanders are vulnerable to these pressures and it shows, especially to the highly professional cabin service managers (CSMs) and flight attendants, with whom we share our responsibilities and duties of care for our passengers. I was once complimented and asked by one of our most professional CSMs, of 30+ years’ experience: “How do you stay so even, every time we fly with you? We always know it will be safe, professional and fun working with you.”

I hadn’t ever thought consciously about that, but I thanked her and was somehow able to summon the following response:

When I go flying, I have 4 priorities:

The safety of the airplane and my crew;
The security and comfort of my passengers;
Meeting the regulations and requirements of the government’s licensing authority; and finally,
Meeting the requirements of my employer.”

Now, it may seem odd, placing the Company last, but I figured that if I satisfied the first three priorities, my employer should have no cause for complaint – and, importantly, it placed that last element in its proper perspective:

OK, we’ve satisfied the first 3, now how can we best address that commercial element?’

Thinking further on this topic, later, I realised that I’d probably done this, subconsciously, ever since completing my first solo, as a 17-yo, way back in 1965; and my ‘second solo’ as a 34-yo, newly-minted F27 captain, in 1981.

It may also explain why professional pilots don’t necessarily feel the weight of responsibility for the safety of 36 or 174 or 400+ passengers. We would operate a freighter flight or ferry an empty airplane exactly the same way as if we had a full complement of fare-paying passengers.

 

Command upgrades

As a training captain for many years, on the DC-9-30 and, later, the B737-300/-400/-800, I was often asked by senior first officers, anticipating their own upgrade to initial command:

We’re licensed to the same standards; we already hold a command instrument rating and first-class airplane endorsement and I’ve been a FO for 8-/10-/12+ years. We share the flying, mostly ‘leg-for-leg’, so what’s the essential difference between how you operate from that LH seat, compared with what I do from the RH seat?

The basic premise of the question was spot-on. We did share the roles of ‘pilot-flying‘ and ‘pilot supporting‘ alternately and, as a training captain, I did fly and support from the RH seat, too, whenever I had the privilege of training a new captain, as he or she settled into the LH seat and its attendant, additional responsibilities. So I was current in both roles and I reckon the RH seat workload is higher. So, it was a great and a fair question – and therein lies a clue. My reply was, usually:

As a first officer, you’ve become accustomed to being able to answer – or know where to find the answers – to most things. As a captain, you’ve got to know the questions.” This was not meant to be a glib throw-away line. By this, I meant that professional captains are always asking themselves, ‘What if?‘, trying to anticipate all possible scenarios and potential outcomes that may affect their present operation.

As a practical and valuable example, many aircraft type non-normal quick-reference handbooks (QRHs) include a procedure, detailing the failure of ALL generators, which could place the aircraft in the situation of relying solely on a ‘Standby‘ or ‘Emergency’ DC power supply, powered by the battery system, for just 30-60 minutes. It’s common for pilots to note or even commit to memory, the minimal electrical services available on ‘Standby Power’. But a great question is: ‘What services have we lost, if we have the generators and main electrical systems operating normally, but the ‘Standby’ orEmergency’ DC power supply fails?‘ It’s generally ignored, as a ‘cannot possibly happen‘ event. if it can be imagined, it can happen.

In the case of the wonderful Fokker F27 Friendship, (my first airliner and my first airline command aircraft), along with other  services lost when operating with the emergency DC power supply failed, ‘Ground Fine’ pitch or 0º pitch angle could not be selected on the propellers: the blade angle would ‘hang-up’ on the 16.5º fine pitch ‘stop(designed to prevent fine pitch blade angles in flight, which could overspeed the propellers) and, after completing a landing with this condition, the Rolls-Royce Dart engines – turning at significantly reduced RPM – would probably overheat and melt turbine blades onto the runway or taxiway, through high internal temperatures and insufficient airflow!

The only solution to protect those engines, was to shut them both down after such a landing, BEFORE decelerating through about 40 Kts – and then requesting a tow to the terminal! And this serious point was NOT highlighted in the manufacturer’s or airlines’ flight operating or training manuals.

While operating a flight sector, great flight crew members, not just commanders, will  be thinking ahead to the next leg and the next: weather considerations, fuel requirements, payload or airplane performance limitations, non-standard configuration considerations: the list goes on. But, with a conscientious work ethic and quality training, it’s not a chore. Command training should be fun, re-affirming everything you’ve learned throughout your career to date and adding your stamp to it. You’ve done the hard work, over many years. Now is the time to apply it. Enjoy!

 

Fearful flyers

A sad reality is that some of our passengers develop a fear of flying, for all sorts of reasons, generally not due to anything that they, themselves, have experienced. It is often due to a simple lack of understanding of how an airplane flies and ‘manages to stay up there.’ Sometimes, a friend or relative has scared them with a tale based on heresy, not fact.

Prior to ‘9-11’, it was sometimes possible, operationally, to invite a nervous passenger to visit the flight deck and it paid instant dividends -always. We could answer their specific questions or concerns; they could see that nothing was happening quickly on the flight deck, even though we were moving through the atmosphere at 450kts or 900km/hr. Often, the response was so apparent that we might extend an invitation to the passenger to remain with us, strap in to the ‘spare jump seat’ and a headset and experience the rare privilege of sharing the descent and landing, at our destination. In my experience, the results achieved were 110% successful! Passengers disembarked smiling, fully relaxed and would often stay, “Thank you so much, I’m cured!

Very often, it seemed that the word, FEAR had been mis-represented as an acronym, F-E-A-R: ‘Fantasy – Expressed -As -Reality‘.

Fear of Flying‘ courses are sponsored by many airlines, to assist passengers to alleviate these unfortunate feelings. They are highly recommended.

Finally, without in any way wishing to diminish the reality of the ‘fearful flyer’ condition, let’s conclude with the light-hearted preface from ‘Spitfire Parade‘, one of the many books in the famous series of  children’s (and parent’s-) own’ ‘Biggles‘ books (and radio serials) by Captain W.E Johns, highlighting the life and times of the fictitious British WW2 pilot and, later, Scotland Yard air detective Air Inspector James Biggleworth, known far and wide as ‘Biggles‘. Entitled ‘Biggles’ Philosophy‘, it went like this:

 

‘When you are flying, everything is either all right, or it’s not alright.

If it is alright, there is no need to worry; if it’s not alright, one of two things is certain:

Either you are in trouble, or you’re not in trouble.

If you are not in trouble, there is no need to worry; if you are in trouble, one of two things is certain:

Either you will crash, or you won’t crash.

If you don’t crash, there is no need to worry; if you do crash, one of two things is certain:

Either you will be injured, or you won’t be injured.

If you are not injured, there is no need to worry; if you are injured, one of two things is certain:

Either you’ll recover, or you won’t recover.

If you do recover, there is no need to worry;

And, finally, if you don’t recover, you can’t worry!’

 

The bottom line

It may become apparent, if not already, that many, if not all of the above vignettes apply not only to aviation, but in everyday life, as well. They certainly have, for me.

 

Happy Landings

 

Would you care to experience that unsurpassed sense of accomplishment, derived from executing consistently beautiful landings, more often?

Read what pilots of all levels of experience have to say about the Jacobson Flare technique and the App, on our Testimonials page.

Then download the COMPLETE Jacobson Flare app – for iOS or Android. You’re already possibly paying $300+/hour to hire an airplane : You’ll recover the cost of the app, in just ONE LESS-NEEDED CIRCUIT.

We invite you, also, to download our new, FREE companion app : the Jacobson Flare NEWS.

** NEW ** The Jacobson Flare Apps – for iOS

Download The Jacobson Flare for iOS devices now.

 

** NEW ** The Jacobson Flare Apps – for Android

Download The Jacobson Flare for Android now.

Conscientious airplane walk-arounds are never a waste of time

The pre-flight walk-around inspection of an aircraft, by the pilot or a trusted crew member is a time-honoured, vital facet of good airmanship. Generations of great pilots have always taken the time and trouble, in all weathers, to take a good look before taking off. The evocative expression, ‘kicking the tyres‘ (to listen for a different tone from one –  indicating a possible discrepancy in tyre pressure) harks back to the ‘good old days’, when there was substantially less engine noise around tarmacs. In approximately 20,000 walk-arounds, over 55 years, only 3 paid a bountiful dividend – but the rest were never a waste of time.

This is the sixth article in a planned occasional series, sharing some most memorable and treasured experiences. This one is another from my own career : We do plan to feature other highly esteemed pilot friends and colleagues, who are only too willing to share their collective aviation experience. The crucial lessons that we learned along the way are just as valid today. They contribute, in no small way, to that intangible but essential quality known in aviation as ‘airmanship’.

  1. 1967 : The Auster

The first of my ‘big 3’ occurred in August 1967, when employed as a 20-yo junior flight instructor. I was tasked with flying a wonderful antique Auster J5L to a nearby country airfield and wait most of the day, while a 100-hour engineering inspection was carried out. Around 1600hrs, the engineers wheeled the airplane out of their maintenance hangar and handed me the new Maintenance Release. “Jump in”, said the chief maintenance engineer,we’ll give you a swing on the propeller.” (The de Havilland Gypsy Major engine, fitted to the Auster, didn’t have a starter motor.)

Hang on“, I replied, “I haven’t carried out a walk-around.”   “Mate“, said the engineer, grinning smugly  to his colleagues, “She’s just come out of the 100-hourly!

I was thinking, ‘All the more reason’, but I returned, simply, “Thanks, but I have never yet flown an airplane without having first walked around it and I don’t intend to vary that policy, today“. “But there’s some nasty weather headed this way – hop in and we’ll get you going. I ignored this last entreaty, totally; it was 1600 hrs on a Friday afternoon and these guys simply wanted me gone, so they could have a beer, before heading off home. I surveyed the sky and there was some approaching low cloud and rain showers; my outbound track back home was reasonably clear and the showers were still about 20 minutes away.

I circumnavigated the airplane. I had witnessed it being pushed out of the hangar after a supposedly-thorough 100-hourly maintenance inspection. It should have been perfect – yet I discovered 2 unbelievable derelictions of care and responsibility:

  1.  The right aileron cable was disconnected and was lying loose and visible, below the fabric-covered wingtip; and
  2.  The engine oil cap was missing : An apprentice engineer was dispatched to the hangar and he located it on a workbench.

While these 2 blunders were being remedied, the other engineers had formed a small semi-circle and, like me, were awaiting their boss’s response to these serious lapses: There was no apology, no contrition, just, “Well, fellers, there’s a careful pilot for you!” I was dismayed and disgusted. I just strapped myself in; someone swung the propeller for me and I just taxied away and departed for home, trying hard to put it out of my mind.

Had I departed without completing that walk around, I would have undoubtedly had the character-building experience of a certain engine failure or seizure on or after take-off, followed by the twin challenges of executing a full forced landing with an oil-covered windscreen and partly functioning or, worse still, jammed aileron controls – in approaching bad weather.

My employer never again returned to that maintenance organisation, yet I was instructed not to submit an air safety incident report. I still regret not doing so. Their collective negligence could have proved fatal – to me.

 

  2.  1984 : The DC-9-30

October 1984 found me completing my command upgrade to the beautiful DC-9-30. On a regular Melbourne to Hobart return flight – MEL-HBA-MEL – my training captain and I were on the turn-around, in Hobart. While executing a second walk-around inspection (following my initial one, completed in Melbourne prior to departure), I was circumnavigating anti-clockwise around the DC-9, dodging the usual collection of obstacles such as refuelling hoses and pump vehicles and heading for the left wheel well, when I noticed something ‘odd‘ sticking out at an odd angle, from the leading edge of the left main landing gear door section, fastened to the gear leg. The door edge was well-silhouetted against the clear sky and the view was foreign to my eyes. I moved closer, to investigate.

Almost simultaneously, our very conscientious ground licensed aircraft maintenance engineer -LAME – was homing in as well. We just looked at each other, as the reality dawned on us: the object projecting out from the door’s leading edge was an almost-separated 100mm/4-inch-long section of the stainless steel strip, fastened along one edge of its curved profile, that is pressed against and forms a seal with the underside of the wing, when the doors close during the landing gear retraction cycle. This particular section had fatigued from normal wear and tear and was hanging on only by a 1/4 inch/6mm ‘thread’. The engineer broke it off and I asked to keep it, as a souvenir.

For what we had both realised from the outset, was that on the next take-off – our departure from Hobart – or a subsequent one, that loose fragment was very likely to separate completely – and it was perfectly aligned with the intake of the left engine, mounted on the aft fuselage. On initial take-off rotation, with the main landing gear still on the ground and the engines much lower than usual – and a 135 kt/270km/hr air blast tearing at it, that little fragment could have totally destroyed the left engine and given this commander-under-training a very real-world ‘engine failure/fire/severe damage’ situation to deal with, instead of a routine simulator training exercise.

That fragment has resided on the wall of my study, ever since.

 

3.  2002 : The B737-800

My First Officer and I had already flown from Melbourne to Brisbane, to crew a further night B737-800 service – in a different airplane – to overnight in Cairns, in far North Queensland (FNQ). I was waiting on the tarmac, as our second aircraft taxyed in and shut-down, at 2030hrs AEST.

As soon as the rotating beacons were extinguished, I commenced my walk-around inspection under the tarmac lighting, proceeding anti-clockwise around the airplane from the nose, as was my habit, differing from the published clockwise recommendation. (It always made more sense to me to proceed anti-clockwise, as the light switch for the main landing gear (MLG) wheel wells was located on the left-hand side and, at night, could provide the necessary illumination at the earliest opportunity. Even armed with a torch, the full illumination was very helpful.)

The B737 doesn’t have doors to enclose the wheel wells when the MLG is retracted, only small doors fitted to the MLG legs : the MLG wheels and tyres, themselves, form the wheel well seal, following retraction. Ground access into the wheel wells is relatively simple, if a little challenging, to avoid the black tyre rubber ‘skid marks‘ on one’s uniform shirt, resulting from brushing up against the rubber sealing panels for the tyres, that line the circular wheel-well opening.

The space inside the main gear wheel well is subdivided, longitudinally by the substantial ‘keel beam‘, which, as in a boat or ship, forms the basis of the longitudinal strength of the entire structure, much like a spine. Measuring some 300mm/12 inches wide, at this point, its flat top surface serves as a platform to support a number of component parts, such as hydraulic lines, electrical cable runs and some various other small component assemblies. It looks a bit cluttered but after many years and many walk-arounds, it had for me the familiar look of an untidy desk; ‘it could be tidier but, at least, I do know where everything is‘, I was thinking. But amongst the familiar clutter, something seemed different.

I took a second look around the L wheel-well, without satisfying my initial curiosity and exited back out, to continue my walk around the left wing and engine. ‘I’d take a fresh look, when I reached the other wheel well on the right side’, I figured. After checking the tail and right wing and engine, I ducked under the wing centre section and stood fully upright again, taking in the space from the opposite side. Again, everything seemed familiar and intact –  no leaks – nothing out of place – until

I looked closely at the central keel beam, again. My initial thought was confirmed: there was something different – a small can, something like the size, shape and silver colour of an airline-sized can of ‘Diet-Coke‘, but not that, resting happily on the keel beam. On top of it, lay a 1/2in drive socket open-ended spanner head and a thread of steel wire protruded from a small aperture, beneath the spanner. The canister, itself, was sitting against one of the hydraulic line runs that was acting as a ‘safety railing’, about 30mm/1.5in, above the keel beam. Otherwise, it was totally unrestrained to the left, forward, aft and vertically. In other words, loose. I realised that it had been in its present location when the airplane landed, just before 2030hrs, as no other person had been near the wheel wells, except me. I picked up the intruder, spanner included and the weight impressed me, for such a relatively small item. It was a virtually full canister of 0.0030 inch stainless steel locking wire, used by engineers to secure nuts and other assemblies.

I exited the wheel well again, just as a ground maintenance engineer approached. “Oh, thanks“, he said, offering to relieve me of it; “We’ve been looking for that!

No“, I replied, “This is mine, for now – where is your tarmac foreman’s office located?” He indicated. I walked over and into the office, holding up the canister and the spanner head, in each hand.

Oh thanks, Captain, said the tarmac foreman, as I handed them to him. We’ve been looking for those two items, since midnight, last night – they were not accounted for : Where did you find them?”  On the keel beam of the -800 over on Gate 23, when I was completing my walk-around“, I replied. “Didn’t that airplane just arrive – from Cairns?”   “Yes“, I said. He consulted the airplane’s movements for the day, on his computer. “Then” he said, looking quite shocked, those bits have been sitting on that keel beam ever since midnight, last night – for over 20 hours. The airplane has done 4 return trips to FNQ, so far today. Somehow, they haven’t fallen out, or been jolted out on landing and not one crew member or ground engineer has noticed them, until now.” 

I was already thinking of just some of the many variations of possibilities that could have ensued, during the 8 previous flight, such as:

  • The maelstrom of airflow around the open wheel wells, on any of the 8 take-offs or landings conducted before I noticed those foreign objects, could have dragged increasing lengths of the lock wire out of the canister, forming a ‘spider’s web‘ of stainless steel lock wire which, on landing gear retraction or extension, could have wreaked havoc on any of the hundreds of innocent and unsuspecting electrical and hydraulic components, anywhere in that wheel well; it would undoubtedly led to a very difficult situation for the operating crew, trying to troubleshoot, sifting through a litany of false warnings as well as real ones.

 

  • Either the spanner head, or the canister itself, could have been jolted or simply fallen out, as the airplane manoeuvred after takeoff or, especially, on approach to landing, over the cities of Brisbane or Cairns. As weighty projectiles, they could have easily killed someone, or crashed through a building window or vehicle windscreen.

 

  • Either item, or both, could have fallen out onto a tarmac, taxiway or runway and caused a foreign object hazard for the engines or tyres of the next-passing airplane : Remember the fatal Concorde tragedy?

On this occasion, after conferring with the Company Flight Safety Manager, I did submit an Aviation Safety Incident Report (ASIR) on this significant lapse in standard maintenance procedures. Nevertheless, I did have some nightmares about the various possibilities, for some time, in the months that followed.

The major lesson I learned from these 3 incidents, roughly 20 years apart over those years, was that no matter what time constraints may be present, the simple walk-around inspection is non-negotiable and must be conscientious, even if you end up finding nothing wrong. 3 problems, in 55 years and approximately 20,000 walk-arounds, is a very low score; but it is still 3 more than it should have been. They underscore the overwhelming need for standard operating procedures (SOPs) to be followed by all who commit – and support aviation, in all its facets.

Walk-around : The first Qantas Airways B737-800 VH-VXA Brisbane : 31 Jan 2002

Happy Landings

 

Would you care to experience that unsurpassed sense of accomplishment, derived from executing consistently beautiful landings, more often?

Read what pilots of all levels of experience have to say about the Jacobson Flare technique and the App, on our Testimonials page.

Then download the COMPLETE Jacobson Flare app – for iOS or Android. You’re already possibly paying $300+/hour to hire an airplane : You’ll recover the cost of the app, in just ONE LESS-NEEDED CIRCUIT.

We invite you, also, to download our new, FREE companion app : the Jacobson Flare NEWS.

** NEW ** The Jacobson Flare Apps – for iOS

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** NEW ** The Jacobson Flare Apps – for Android

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Non-normal checklists don’t always cover the situation : the Jacobson Flare does

Throughout an aviation career spanning 55 years and 24,500 hours, a pilot is bound to encounter some non-normal situations along the way. Licence renewal checks, conducted in the modern and very sophisticated digital flight simulators offer fantastic, accelerated learning experiences for pilots at all levels, with zero safety risk to crews and airplanes. However, unless a company flight training department – or an individual flight instructor/examiner – has some imagination, most exercises rely heavily on the manufacturer’s Quick Reference Handbook (QRH) and its unique and quite definitive Non-Normal checklists for the airplane type.

The non-normal events that I experienced, over that 55-year period, were more often than not either a combination of issues from more than one system, or an issue out of ‘left field‘, that did not match, exactly, any non-normal checklist. The ability of pilots to think ‘outside the square’ is a definite advantage.

This is the fifth article in a planned occasional series, sharing some most memorable and treasured experiences. This one is also from my own career : We do plan to feature other, highly esteemed pilot friends and colleagues, who are only too willing to share their collective aviation experience. The crucial lessons that we learned along the way are just as valid today. They contribute, in no small way, to that intangible but essential quality known in aviation as ‘airmanship’.

A great example of this is a non-normal landing I once executed at Adelaide, South Australia, in a B737-400. On approach to runway 23, flaps 1º extended perfectly normally, with correct indications for both leading and trailing edge flaps. On selection of flaps 5º, The flap gauge L & R needles ’stuck’, just as the second stage, Flaps 5º was running. The anticipated change in trim seemed to suggest that the flaps had run to 5º, but my First Officer and I couldn’t confirm this on the flap gauge. Further, the B737 flap asymmetry protection system takes its signals from the L and R flap gauge needles – and the gauge was now u/s. The leading edge devices were confirmed as fully extended by their separate LED indicators and, cross-checking attitude, airspeed and thrust setting,  we believed that we probably had trailing edge flaps at 5º. We just couldn’t confirm this, as there are no painted ‘witness’ position calibration marks presented on the flaps, as they extend.

After referring to the Non-normal checklists, we established that there wasn’t a dedicated procedure for this particular issue. On conferring with our company engineers by radio, we decided it was prudent NOT to attempt any further flap extension or retraction in the air (in case of any uncontrollable flap asymmetry), and to make the conservative assumption that the trailing edge flaps were fully ‘up’, i.e., 0º and execute a Trailing Edge Flaps-Up landing, as per the non-normal landing checklist for that condition.

At our landing weight, the Vref 40 (1.3 Vs for Flaps 40) airspeed was 136 KIAS. Adding 5kts made the VApp airspeed 141 KIAS. With the trailing edge flaps at 0º, the further additive for the higher Vs was another 40 kts, so we made our final approach at 181 KIAS! That looked pretty fast, as we crossed the threshold.

I aimed at the standard B737 aiming point, at 1000ft from the threshold and flared as the glare shield passed the 500ft point – same as for a normal Flaps 30º or 40º, utilising my own ‘Jacobson Flare’ technique. The only correction I needed to make was to position the aim point 1 LOWER in the windscreen, due the much higher nose-up body angle (8-9º, instead of the usual 2.5-3º nose-up), using the autopilot-coupled ILS to confirm both glide path and visual eye path.

We actually touched down in the pre-determined spot – aiming point 1 – same as any JF landing and I rolled through to the full length of the runway, to spare the brakes, wheels and tyres from excessive heat – and to take full advantage of the Aviation Rescue and Fire Fighting units we had requested to attend, in the event of any tyre or brake failure or fire. When we shut down, the brakes were probably cooler than for a normal landing, when we might brake more heavily, to make a designated runway exit taxyway. On turn-around, the flap indicator gauge was replaced and the issue was resolved.

The lessons learned and offered are that:

1.    Sometimes, a non-normal event doesn’t exactly match a published non-normal procedure.

2.   The Jacobson Flare self-compensates for these non-normal flap configurations and airspeeds. Just remember that the aim point position in the windscreen might vary from its usual position for a normal landing, due to a different airplane body angle caused by the different flap configuration. The longitudinal flare fix of the Jacobson Flare also self-compensates, automatically, for uphill- and downhill-sloping runways, approach path angle variations and the classic cause of flare ‘height‘ illusions, runway widths different from those of our more familiar airports.

 

Happy Landings

 

Would you care to experience that unsurpassed sense of accomplishment, derived from executing consistently beautiful landings, more often?

Read what pilots of all levels of experience have to say about the Jacobson Flare technique and the App, on our Testimonials page.

Then download the COMPLETE Jacobson Flare app – for iOS or Android. You’re already possibly paying $300+/hour to hire an airplane : You’ll recover the cost of the app, in just ONE LESS-NEEDED CIRCUIT.

We invite you, also, to download our new, FREE companion app : the Jacobson Flare NEWS.

** NEW ** The Jacobson Flare Apps – for iOS

Download The Jacobson Flare for iOS devices now.

 

** NEW ** The Jacobson Flare Apps – for Android

Download The Jacobson Flare for Android now.