December 22nd was the winter
solstice, the shortest day of the year. In much of the continental U.S.,
flights that only a few months earlier were conducted completely in daylight,
may now begin in the darkness before the dawn or conclude after sunset.
The following ASRS reports illustrate two of the potential hazards associated
with these additional hours of winter darkness.
First, a commuter flight crew learned that looks can be deceiving during
a pre-dawn pre-flight.
- Three out
of four fuel caps were left off the aircraft, and missed on pre-flight
and pre-takeoff checks. The aircraft was flown with the caps off, and
returned to its point of origin for landing without incident. The caps
had been removed for painting. The PIC assumed they were replaced since
all pre-flight paperwork released the aircraft for flight. The PIC did
not physically touch the caps, but rather looked at them in pre-dawn
lighting. The caps looked recessed. A "look pre-flight" as
opposed to a "touch or close inspection pre-flight" in low
ambient light was a factor affecting performance...So much for the dreaded
The reporter does not specify
whether a flashlight was actually used in this incident. A good flashlight
would have been the minimum equipment needed for a thorough pre-flight
of the aircraft. Additionally, a ladder might have allowed the PIC to
get close enough to touch the fuel caps and confirm that they were in
place and properly seated.
An early evening flight almost became a "graveyard" flight for
this non-instrument-rated pilot, who met clouds and darkness at the same
- I left XYZ
later than I originally intended. In retrospect, I should not have left
at a time that would require night VFR flight, given the cloud conditions.
[When] I came upon a large cloud front... I tried to climb over it,
but soon elected to descend below it. I did not notice entering IMC
at first, and, in fact, remember being curious why the anti-collision
lights were illuminating the cockpit and causing a strobe effect on
the prop. Shortly thereafter, I noticed that the turn coordinator was
pegged in a left turn, the attitude indicator showed a 45-60° left
bank, the directional gyro was spinning rapidly...and the airspeed indicator
dropped to 60 knots, then to zero. I recognized the signs of [an impending]
"graveyard spiral" and was able to return the plane to straight-and-level
flight. The real cause [of this incident] was...lack of appreciation
of the danger of night VFR.
A corporate pilot almost found
himself left in the dark when his aircraft experienced a total electrical
- I activated
the pilot-controlled runway lighting and proceeded with my run-up and
pre-flight checks. [After takeoff], I turned off my aircraft landing
light, after which I lost all electricals. I turned back to the field...
I did not feel I could spend much time in the pattern because the pilot-controlled
lighting might go out and I would have no way to reactivate the runway
lights. I decided to land in the reverse direction...
Posting of "on times" (5 minutes, 10 minutes, etc.) for lighting
on charts, airport guides, etc. would allow pilots to determine how
much time is left before shutoff of runway lights in emergency electrical
Some additional pre-flight
reading might have saved our reporter a lot of worry. The Airport/Facility
Directory indicates that this airport has pilot-controlled Medium Intensity
Runway Lighting (MIRL), an FAA-approved system. The AIM explains that
FAA-approved lighting systems illuminate the lights for a period of 15
minutes from the time of the most recent activation. The AIM suggests
that, even when runway lights are on, pilots should key their mikes seven
times, to ensure that the full 15-minute lighting duration is available.
"Dark Amid the
Blaze of Noon"
An unusual solar eclipse was
at the heart of the near-midair collision described in the next report.
- We were
cleared [down] to 7000 feet. [We] saw a light twin directly in front
of us, moving left to right...and the First Officer immediately grabbed
the yoke and rolled the plane into a 20 degree left bank. We notified
the Approach Controller, who did not have the aircraft on radar.
At the time of the incident, a rare eclipse of the sun was occurring,
and we were told afterward there were many targets on radar. We theorize
that the light twin was a sightseer of the eclipse, and in all probability
never saw us.
In any lighting situation--daylight
or dark--the key concept is to "see-and-avoid."
Some well-intentioned friends
thought they were doing the next reporter a favor, by "helping"
him get his paperwork in order. The results left the reporter sick-at-heart:
- I noticed
that my First Class medical certificate had expired for First and Second
Class privileges, and was now basically a Third Class medical. I thought
I needed a First Class certificate to receive authorization to take
an ATP written exam. My friends suggested that I white-out the date
to change it to a '95, which would make it appear to be a First Class
certificate. I said no, I would see if the FAA would give me an authorization
with a Third Class certificate if everything else was in order.
In an effort to help me, my friends changed the date from '94 to '95.
Not knowing this, I went to the FSDO and showed them everything, whereupon
they noticed the alteration on the medical certificate. After some probing
questions from the Inspectors, I confessed that my non-aviation friends
had falsified my medical, not knowing the consequences and the trouble
they could get me into. The FAA Inspectors were not very sympathetic,
and said I would be hearing from them.
I do have a new medical now, but am very worried what is going to happen.
I have my whole career ahead of me. I hope that this can be resolved
without major action being taken against me.
Pilots and other aviation professionals
can avoid this type of situation by monitoring the expiration dates of
their medical certificates, flight reviews, and other date-limited certifications.
There may be a further need to educate friends that the FAA takes a dim
view of "whitewashed" documents, regardless of how they came
to be that way. Falsification of certificates is a violation of Federal
on the "Web"
The ASRS is now on the Internet
World Wide Web. You can access the ASRS Home Page using a Web browser
(such as Netscape or Mosaic) on any computer platform. Our address is:
Web URLs (Uniform Resource
Locators) are case sensitive, so make sure you type the "ASRS"
This new Internet offering provides electronic information and services
to the aviation community, including:
Overview. A brief overview of the ASRS program, including program purposes,
reporter immunity and confidentiality, report processing, the ASRS database,
and ASRS program outputs.
Briefing. A more detailed review of the ASRS, with an examination of
the ASRS program structure and inner workings.
- ASRS Database.
How to request database information from the ASRS.
Forms. Download a pilot or controller reporting form. Then print, fill
out, and mail the completed form to us.
Policy. A look at FAA immunity policies as they apply to ASRS incident
reports, including Advisory Circular 00-46C, Federal Aviation Regulation
91-25, and Facility Operations and Administration Handbook (7210.3K),
- ASRS Publications.
Adobe Acrobat versions of recent CALLBACK and Directline aviation safety
newsletters. We will continue to add more issues as these are produced,
as well as various research publications.
- The Adobe
Acrobat Reader. The ASRS reporting forms and publications require the
Adobe Acrobat Reader for viewing and printing. The Reader is free, and
can be accessed via a "hotlink" to Adobe. Just click on "Adobe
Acrobat Reader," and follow the prompts to download the appropriate
application for your computer.
FMS on the World Wide
Another recent Internet addition
is the NASA-Ames FMS Bluecoat Digest Home Page. The Bluecoat Digest was
created as a means of encouraging ongoing discussion between the engineers
who build flight deck automation systems, and the pilots who use these
systems. It offers a monthly electronic publication containing articles
authored by line pilots and aviation industry engineers and researchers.
The Bluecoat Digest Web address is:
ASRS Recently Issued Alerts
- Elevator trim icing problems
in older DHC-8 aircraft
- False localizer indications
on a Mexican ILS approach
- Reportedly unreliable wind
sensors at a Hawaii airport
- B737-300 runaway rudder
trim caused by a short circuit
- NICAD battery fire hazard
in carry-on electronic equipment
October 1995 Report Intake
- Air Carrier Pilots--1776
- General Aviation Pilots--724