Engine out! Do not be a Stall Spin Statistic.

11 Hours ago I shared a post on Facebook by Dan Gryder. It was about a stall spin accident that happened 16 years ago today to a young man and 2 his passengers, friends of Dan Gryders. All perished in the accident. Could it have been avoided? Dan in the years since has gone to great lengths to determine what happened inside that cockpit when the engine failed and how pilots deal with the immediate loss of power. His question, “How likely are they to survive?”

What will your reaction be when losing power at 400′ agl, or any altitude, and will you be able to maneuver your aircraft to the ground safely? Read Dan’s comments and conclusions.

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August 12, 2016 It is so hard to believe that it has been 16 years ago since Brock’s accident. This is one that lives with me every day, on every flight. Brock was a fine young man that truly had the aviation bug. I had soloed him, gotten him his private, then instrument, and then commercial ratings. He was a family friend and spent a lot of time at our house, playing with the boys who were 1 and 4 at the time. He was always digging deeper into airplanes, and how to be a better pilot. He had goals and dreams like any other kid. He often talked about being able to fly someday for a mission organization, or a relief effort. There was never any mention of flying so that he could get a high paying job. That wasn’t Brock. Brock had gone on with his flying and had quite a lot of flight time, somewhere around 400 hours when this accident happened. Surely more than enough to be able to give a simple airplane ride to two friends, day VFR, perfect weather, and a long paved runway in a Cessna 172.

 

That morning at about 930 am my phone rang. It was in the days before cell phones so the house phone rang and I knew immediately something was wrong. I hadn’t talked to Brock for a day or two, so I didn’t even know that he was going out to give some rides, but I quickly learned that the 172 was down, just off the departure end of runway 31 at Falcoln Field. In the days and weeks after the accident, the most asked question asked of me, and I of myself, was HOW this could have happened.

 

Brock was a great kid, a good pilot, and very careful about his airplane operations. How. In the months following the accident, I put a tremendous effort into determining that this same airplane had been returned to the rental school a total of 8 times in the previous month. Each time the same complaint. The airplane lost power in flight. Its just that on all of the other flights, the airplane was in cruise or descending when the anomaly occurred.

 

Brock’s happened at about 400 feet, on takeoff. The mechanical WHY of this accident had to do with the butterfly valve in the carb that had an AD on it, that had not been addressed, whereby the valve flipped to the full position and in essence made the engine run so rich that it could not produce power. That, along with witness accounts explained that he had a loss of thrust on takeoff, but the mystery of what happened next that day would take years to unravel. But I did unravel it. As it turns out, we are all human beings, built with the same fears, reactions, emotions, and instincts.

 

It took several hundred simulations in my own airplanes to conclusively PROVE that the average pilot, given the same scenario (on takeoff, at climb speed, and being generally unsuspecting) would actually pull hard on the yoke during the first three seconds following an engine failure. WHAT? Why? Because that is the way you are wired. My routine was to turn off the fuel valve at 300 feet, after having explained that this is a normal flight, then wait the required 20 seconds for the engine to starve and quit, and watch (and video) the reaction. Amazing. Everyone freezes in shock, but ultimately PULLS on the yoke. I continued this wherever possible, always leaving myself an out in the form of a farmers field below just in case my own self induced engine failure ever did not result in making the engine run again. In a majority of cases, direct intervention was always required of me to keep us from stall/spin at this low altitude. The amount of time from LOTOT to SPIN is between 5 and 9 seconds, depending on the airplane, and how hard the pilot pulls.

 

It was just a few years later that very experienced local pilot Leo Giles made a takeoff from this same airport, same runway, same VMC conditions, and had the same result. Leo suffered a LOTOT at 400 AGL and “pulled aft” on the stick. His crash site was just a few hundred yards from Brock’s. Leo died alone in that plane that day, his aircraft did not suffer a mechanical failure of any kind, other than his loss of thrust. Eventually I began to pay closer attention to other similar GA day VMC single engine fatal accidents. What do the ALL have in common? The were all being piloted by a human, that was not “EXPECTING” a LOTOT at this low altitude. It was the “lack of expectation” that was the key. These pilots, and their unsuspecting passengers are in essence being killed by an overall lack of awareness, and lack of planning for this very likely scenario. In the years that followed my aviation friends that had the capability to help with this did just that, and pushed for a change in the initial pilot training requirements that at least attempted to address this scenario that today is still the HIGHEST CATEGORY FATAL ACCIDENT CAUSE for single engine planes! Julie Filucci, Doug Stewart, and many more were involved in steering the new ACS, which replaces the pilots PTS, and became effective in July of this year.

 

Here is the exact wording out of the new ACS that is now mandatory for each new pilot:
PA.IV.A.R14 14. Plans for engine failure after takeoff.

PLANS FOR ENGINE FAILURE AFTER TAKEOFF! You see, it’s not that the scenario isnt easy to overcome, it’s the fact that your average pilot is totally “not ready”, and has not planned for this, should they encounter LOTOT during this phase. We could easily wipe this entire scenario out and literally save hundreds of lives and airplanes annually with more awareness, and a new mindset:

 

Here is what I teach: “ON TAKEOFF, I AM GOING TO LOSE THE ENGINE. WHEN I DO, I WILL SAY THERE IT IS, PUSH.” If a pilot will rehearse this prior to each takeoff, and be totally “expecting” it like we do, there is no reason to ever see a stall/spin takeoff accident again. I have drawn a map so that you can see Brock’s path that day, 16 years ago this morning. The first box is the point of LOTOT, the path goes up from there. The second box is where the wing quit flying. Neither Brock nor I had this picture or this information 16 years ago. I taught him to fly, but this topic was never covered, because at the time – no one had any idea that these are the instincts of pilots in this scenario.

 

But now we know, and now YOU know. All of my efforts and this post are dedicated to the life and memory of my friend, Brock Senft.


So what’s the answer. Are most of us doomed to a stall/spin if we’re handed an engine out at 400′ departing an airport. I asked Brian Lansburgh from Tailwheel Town to weigh in and not surprising, the topic has been on his mind. Very timely, he forwarded a draft of an article he’s been working on.

As a teacher of flying, I found that on those occasions when I sought to overpower a student on the controls, I was always pushing. I was always trying to get the nose down. Was it only me, who had taken up the cause of lower angle of attack? It had really been bothering me. On occasions like this, I often seek truth and consensus at one place. It may be about the only place where I really feel I belong.

I wandered down the taxiway at Tailwheel Town. The sun had gone down and gradually the sound of the old piano, of the band, of scintillating conversation and of glasses tinkling and great thoughts being shared became louder and louder.  I found myself at the end of the taxiway where a hangar home had been taken over. You see, the former inhabitants had not been pilots. They had sought a place with a nice home and a big hangar for uses other than the storage and maintenance of airplanes. That didn’t go over well with the pilot population and the non-flyers had been unceremoniously booted out of Tailwheel Town. I heard that the “displacement committee” had told them, “It’s a waste of property if you live on an airport and don’t have an airplane.” They handed them a check for the fair price and said, “Now get out.”

 

So now the place, re-named “The Groundloop Saloon”, belonged to the Flight Instructors’ Club. I pushed my way into the place.

 

Picture that famous nightclub in the very first “Star Wars” movie. When Han Solo and his friends go into the place, it’s filled with funny music, kind of like Klezmer. Many weird and different sorts of beings all drink, fight and carry on at tables scattered about the place. That’s what the “Groundloop Saloon” looks like. It’s where lots of professional pilots, but mostly those who have come to the calling of flight training seek the company of like-minded individuals. Sometimes I think that the spirits of the departed exist there, not just in their pictures, hanging on the wall, but drifting around and visiting at the tables. They drop their wisdom from time to time as they drift from table to table.

 

Just a few of the pictures on the wall at the “Groundloop Saloon.
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On this night I was searching for an answer, so I banged a spoon against my glass of “Sheepdip” scotch as I stood on the small stage. Gradually I got most of the attention of most of the denizens of the Groundloop.

“I’ve been wondering…” I started. “Our airplanes all have dual controls. They have dual controls so that we can overpower our students or maybe sometimes demonstrate to them. But I find that on those occasions when I am overpowering a student, I’m almost always PUSHING. What is your experience? Have any of you characters ever PULLED on the stick or control wheel, or are we always PUSHING?”

 

The answer was unanimous. Some of the pilots had to perk themselves up out of an alcohol-induced haze, scratch their thinkbumps and consider for a moment. Some had to converse momentarily with their comrades, but they all muttered together that, indeed, they almost always pushed, never pulled. In fact, the only time they ever pulled was to keep a student from making an aircraft-shaped hole in the runway during a landing.

 

“Thank you,” I said. “That’s kinda what I thought”. I ambled over to the bar to refresh my glass of Sheepdip and someone drifted over to me to help me understand.

 

“You do know what flight instruction is, don’t you?”

 

“Yeh, yeh, yeh, “I replied. “The gradual transference of responsibility for the flight from the teacher to the student… I’ve said it a million times…”

 

“That may be,” the voice agreed, “but there is just a little more to it than that. You see, everyone really knows how to fly. It’s our job to simply allow their knowledge to come to the surface. And part of that process is the shedding of human instinct in order to allow knowledge of flying to replace it…”

 

That voice sounded a bit familiar and I looked to the wall where pictures of departed aviators hung. Bill Warren’s picture was bit fuzzy.

 

“You mean…” I started.

 

“Yes, exactly”, the voice agreed. “You know that old joke: To make an airplane go up, pull back; to make it go down, pull back further?”

 

“Sure”, I nodded, slurping the peaty-tasting liquid and allowing its hotness to gurgle down my gullet.

“That experience of overcoming the pull with the push is simply that moment where you are, in effect, telling your student, ‘no, don’t fall victim to your own instinct’, just let the airplane fly”.

 

“You mean like that scene from ”My Friend Flicka” that I’m always repeating?

 

“Exactly”, the disembodied member of the fraternity nodded.

 

“Ol’ Wolfgang Langewiesche got it right…”

 

Just then the spirit of Wolfgang Langewiesche appeared and his thick, German accent was unmistakable and undeniable…”Ach! Is about time someone realized I vas right all along…” and then he disappeared.

The disembodied spirit continued. “Airplanes ARE like horses and often they simply need to be given their head. Remember when Frank Chapot wrote that article about making sure that there was no contact on a horse’s mouth when he went over a jump? It’s the same thing. When you are pushing on the stick or control wheel, it’s because you are recognizing that the student is pulling on the horse’s mouth just as he is trying to clear that hurdle. That’s the last thing he needs… and it’s the last thing an airplane needs. As the spirit’s presence disappeared, I looked over to the wall. Bill’s picture had come into sharp focus.

 

It was that night at the Groundloop Saloon and in the company of fellow members of the Flight Instructor’s Club that I achieved my consensus and true understanding of just one of the thousands of things we teach when we set about to make a flier out of a ground-pounder.

 

Filled with new assurance, I wobbled out of the Saloon and headed back to my place. I passed another hangar, where a late night meeting could be heard. That’s where students and tailwheel endorsement applicants were plotting against their teachers. I knew all about that custom. I also knew that for some of them, it would be a relatively short trip to the Groundloop Saloon. A flight of passage awaited them as they learned to teach what they’d learned.

 

My step was at once a little unsteady because of the Sheepdip, but it was partly resolute with the knowledge that I was on to at least one little tidbit of truth. My colleagues, both present and past had provided me with the little vote of confidence that I needed. They had provided me with an instructional tidbit. It was a tidbit that I would share with all those who came to me for their own transformation. I felt better already… or was it the Sheep Dip?

 


What’s my take away? If the engine quits resist the temptation to pull back on the stick. A strong push may save your life. If your engine quits during maximum performance climb, an immediate vigorous push will keep the airspeed at or above best glide speed. Airspeed is life in an airplane and the speed you are looking for is your best glide speed.

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