and Aircraft Tune-ups
Maintenance of flight proficiency--and
sound operational judgment--can be challenging for both general aviation
and professional pilots. Most air carrier and air taxi pilots rely on
company training and check programs to maintain their currency. But even
a short time out of the cockpit can cause a pilot to lose "the touch,"
as described in this First Officer's report:
- The Captain
had just come back from a 3-week vacation, so we decided I would take
the first leg. Shortly after rotation, I noticed a "mushiness"
in the roll controls. I told the Captain that the controls felt weird.
Once we got up to a higher altitude, the Captain took the control wheel
and rolled it back and forth a few times. He gave it back, saying, "Well,
I've been on vacation for a while." I took this to mean he was
diplomatically telling me he couldn't feel any problems. Up at cruise
altitude, the Captain studied the maintenance history and discovered
that an aileron PCU [Primary Control Unit] had been recently replaced...The
following day, we were dismayed to read that engineering found the ailerons
to be primarily inoperative.
The First Officer looked to
the Captain for confirmation of the flight control abnormality, but the
Captain's recent absence from the flight deck left him out of touch with
the aircraft's "feel." The FO sums up his report with several
disturbing questions about the crew's decision to continue the flight
with mushy-feeling controls:
What if we had
lost an engine on takeoff with a strong crosswind? What if we had encountered
wake turbulence on short final?
A general aviation pilot, in
turn, discovered that touch-and-goes may not be enough to reestablish
- Not having
flown my aircraft for four months, I was performing the three required
touch-and-goes to reestablish my currency. On my second approach, I
heard two pilots reporting their positions [also in the pattern]. My
attention was diverted as I attempted to visually confirm their actual
positions. Thus, I neglected to perform my "GUMPS."
On short final, a horn sounded, which I incorrectly interpreted as being
a stall warning horn. I believed that if it was indeed the stall horn,
it may have been malfunctioning, given that my airspeed was well above
stall speed. I heard the prop "ting," and realized that the
horn had been indicating gear up, not stall. I concentrated on maintaining
control despite the inevitable consequences.
Despite over 600 landings in this aircraft, I now believe that I should
have been accompanied by an instructor. A pilot still lacks proficiency
after a period of inactivity and is vulnerable to errors.
An air carrier check pilot
reported a lack-of-currency incident (in the form of an altitude deviation),
and offered this excellent advice, applicable to all:
- You get rusty when you don't
fly, and you lose your edge. Stay realistically current, not just legal.
Having the aircraft in top
shape is equally important for a safe flight, as this government pilot
- I was on
an IFR flight plan at FL190. I became nauseous, had tingling in my arms
and hands, and my eyes were burning and watering. I got on oxygen, which
seemed to help for a while, but then the symptoms returned. [At my destination],
I asked for a special VFR clearance and radar vectors to final. I declared
an emergency to receive priority handling. After an uneventful landing,
I was met by an ambulance and transported to the hospital. Tests were
A hole was found in an air duct in the aircraft, and it is possible
that exhaust fumes were piped into the cabin. The hole has been repaired,
and the aircraft now has a carbon monoxide detector in it.
Many reporters can attest to
the value of a carbon monoxide detector, since a problem like this is
unlikely to be noted on preflight. If an aircraft has not been flown for
a period of time, a mechanic's inspection may also be a good idea. The
next reporter encountered a similar hidden source of trouble.
- I had preflighted
and run the engine up and I proceeded to take off. At about 100 feet
AGL, I smelled fumes; at 200 feet AGL, I saw smoke; at 300 feet AGL,
I turned back to the airport. Initially I thought it was an electrical
fire, so I pulled the master switch off. I realized this was not the
problem, so I turned it back on and called on CTAF to announce an emergency
landing. I landed safely and nothing was damaged. The fire was the result
of a bird's nest that had been [partially] removed. When the airplane's
owner removed the nest, some [remaining] papers and straw had become
lodged between the cylinders and caught fire. I couldn't see or feel
these articles on preflight.
It would have been helpful
if the owner had mentioned the nest to the reporter, as a "heads-up"
for potential problems.
"A Little Madness
in the Spring . . .
. . . Is wholesome even
for the King," declared Emily Dickinson. Spring madness can encompass
graduations, horse races, birthdays, engagements and retirements. Reporters
share some sobering experiences of airborne celebrations gone awry.
A high school senior engaging
in "an act of celebration" almost ended up not having anything
- I rented
a plane to practice flight maneuvers. During the flight, I decided to
fly over my high school. [In a few days], I was to graduate with honors,
and had received an appointment to the Air Force Academy. Unfortunately,
but not deliberately, my altitude descended below the legal level.
Upon landing, I was met by the county sheriff. The high school officials
had called them because of my low flying. I met with the principal to
apologize. I was suspended and not permitted to attend commencement
exercises with my senior class.
I did not want this to jeopardize my scholastic or career plans. The
incident has taught me to pay closer attention to my altitude, especially
over populated areas.
A traffic watch pilot, monitoring
traffic congestion after a race, reports another incident over a populated
- In the vicinity
of a horse racing track, following a big race, I dropped two rolls of
toilet paper, as a kind of celebration. The paper unraveled and harmlessly
descended, as a streamer.
A short time later, Approach asked if I had seen an aircraft which was
reported to have dropped toilet paper. I did not answer. With my understanding
that I was not creating a hazard to persons or property, I thought there
was no harm done. I was the only aircraft in the area.
Any dropped object may be potentially
hazardous, even if only as a visual distraction for motorists.
Next, a passenger experienced
a memorable birthday as a result of a minor cabin equipment problem. The
- Just prior
to pushback, the Flight Attendant came forward with the bathroom doorknob
in her hand. She advised me that she could reattach the knob just by
pushing it back on the shaft. I directed her to do that. Enroute the
knob came off again with a passenger in the bathroom and the passenger
couldn't get out. The Flight Attendant was able to free the lock from
The passenger had never flown before, had just graduated from college,
and this was his birthday! He took the whole thing good-naturedly, and
said he would have quite a story to tell his future grandchildren.
Since the aircraft was still
on the ground when the problem first occurred, the wisest course probably
would have been to request a mechanic to properly secure the door handle.
Alternatively, if passenger load and flight time had permitted, the lavatory
simply could have been locked so the situation would not recur.
- The pilot
was on a mission to skywrite a woman's name "...#1." Her imaginative
boyfriend had ordered the service. The pilot was proceeding down the
river, and ran into a portion of the Class B airspace [in proximity
to an arrival/departure route] prior to contacting Approach. The delay
in radio contact was due to frequency congestion on the Approach frequency.
After contacting Approach, the pilot did ask for and receive permission
to skywrite at 9,500 -10,000 feet.
The reporter was impatient
with the frequency congestion and eager to get to the task at hand. Unauthorized
entry into such busy airspace could have become a serious hazard for other
aircraft in the vicinity of the arrival/departure corridor.
with a Bang
- I made a
normal takeoff and was climbing out, when my Inflight Coordinator informed
me that the very heavy beverage cart had broken loose from the first
class galley, rolled down the aisle of first class and come to rest
after damaging the partition between first and business classes. The
Inflight Coordinator and the Flight Attendant had rushed to hold the
cart in place until the airplane [had stabilized], enabling them to
resecure the cart.
It occurred to me that any other action on their part might have triggered
a high-speed abort, with possible consequences such as blown tires,
a runway excursion, evacuation injuries, etc. After I arrived, I filled
out a report commending the Inflight Coordinator for her presence of
mind, and then retired, as the next day was my birthday!
A final preflight check of
the security of the beverage cart latches might have prevented this mishap.
Given the situation as it occurred, however, the cabin crew did a fine
job of minimizing the problem. What a way for this Captain to retire!
ASRS Recently Issued Alerts
- A confusing arrival procedure
into Bogota, Colombia
- Separation of an SF-340
propeller blade leading edge
- Failure of an EMB-120 cockpit
window support beam
- Alleged need for a B-757
speed brake warning system
- Confusing signage for runways
28/23L at Cleveland, OH
January 1996 Report Intake
- Air Carrier Pilots--1661
- General Aviation Pilots--547