From The South Ramp --Hank Bruckner
|Article from the April 2001 edition of the GACH newsletter
Once it has become evident you are going to ditch and you’ve made your distress radio calls the following steps must be followed: Snug your seatbelts/shoulder harnesses and unplug your headset (or remove it); crack the doors or canopy and establish your reference point. For a passenger, that might be the side of the seat, or an armrest. Body position is with one hand on the reference point, chin tucked, and the other hand across the chest, holding the shoulder harness. The pilot will be busy flying until all forward motion is gone, and then will hold the seatbelt/harness as a reference point. The key here is that you do not release your reference point from your grasp until you either are outside the aircraft or have established another reference point.
After impact with the water you must wait for all motion to cease. Most aircraft will skip at least once, and the last one is likely to be much more violent as the structure digs into the water and comes to a sudden stop. Once you are in the water, take a count of five seconds or longer. This helps you focus and suppress the urge to act out of panic, as well as wait for things to stop thrashing around. Then, with a good grip on your reference point, release your seat belt/harness with the other hand, and follow your reference point out of the aircraft. If you are submerged, hold your hand up over your head as you surface to protect your head from debris or fire. Once on the surface, you’d assess the situation, and once you were sure you didn’t need to go back under water for anything or anyone, then you’d inflate your vest. Needless to say (though I will), any vest in the back, or even in a seat pocket in a single is not going to do you any good at all because you probably won’t be able to don it in time, especially if you are the pilot.
So, where’s the life raft? If you had it between the seats or on the floor, it won’t be there any more once everything stops moving. If the plane partially or fully submerges, the raft will float to the highest point (likely the tail cone—where you’ll wind up if you release your belts without holding on to a reference point). If you want it to be where you can get to it after a ditching, strap it down where it won’t become dislodged. Then, as you take your five count, you can locate it and decide whether you can retrieve it and egress.
This type of hands-on, water-up-the-nose training is priceless (oh yeah, and free). Until you do it, just reading about it is only an academic exercise. You don’t have to be a swimmer to do it either. I can’t thank Scott and the guys from OAS and Interior enough. They may have just saved my life.
Rust to Dust
Those of you who fly out of HNL see the three DeHavilland Herons slowly melting into the South Ramp, recently joined by two Islanders, as you motor down Lagoon Drive. It’s been about a decade since the Herons turned a prop. These once proud planes and their smaller siblings, the Doves, used to ply our skies, full of eyes eager to take in the unrelenting beauty of towering sea cliffs, misty valleys, windblown waterfalls, forbidding fields of a’a and laupahoehoe, and even the glowing, liquefied heart of the islands, all hewn in an almost unbelievable palette of colors and shades. All this without leaving so much as a footprint on the ground. And not just the Herons and Doves. Our skies were filled with Beech 18s and Chieftains and Islanders from companies that all faded away. Scenic, Panorama, Circle Rainbow, HATS are but a few of the more prominent air tour outfits no longer extant. Most of the planes are gone, although a precious few soldier on in other roles.
Back to the Herons, for a moment. Product of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, the Heron could seat 18 in comfort, with expansive windows and a stand-up cabin. The cockpit is surprisingly cozy for a four-engined transport. The quadrant has only four throttle levers. Mixture and prop is automatic. A feathering button lies beneath each throttle. Simple and elegant. The cockpit side windows bulge out slightly, improving crew visibility. There’s really nothing else like it, and you’d be hard pressed to come up with a modern equivalent. Perhaps a Beech 99 or 1900 might come closest. And the Herons just rot away, silent testament to the outcome of unresolved disputes, debatable decisions and neglect.
Clearly the fixed-wing air tour business is moribund, and the further we get from affordable insurance and aircraft and an enabling regulatory and business climate, the less likely its revival. Each company had its own set of circumstances that lead to its eventual demise, and it is certainly not my intention to taxi down that lane. However, the value of the air tour business to Hawai’i as a source of income, revenue, attraction and even as a public service should not be understated, and the industry deserves to be allowed to flourish and not impeded by officialdom.
Blowing in the Wind
When the air is full of energy, and especially when it’s gusty and blowing across the runway, I like to transition to the side slip (“wing low”) early—say at 50’-100’ or so—rather than crab all the way down and “kick” it straight right in the flare. There are a couple of reasons: If I wait until just prior to touch down, it may be too late to both realize that there’s too much crosswind for me and the airplane and also effect a safe go around. Also, by going to the slip a little early, I get into the mode of correcting drift with aileron and alignment with rudder. As I get closer to the ground, if I run out of either rudder (common in Cessnas) or aileron (common in the Seneca I) and cannot either stop the drift or align myself with the centerline, I have time to start my go around before I’m way back behind the power curve. Late go arounds claim their fair share of aluminum. Starting the slip a little early will require careful power management, since by slipping you are increasing drag and thus, rate of descent, and I may have to carry a little more power longer into the landing than normal.
Tailwheel aircraft present their own unique set of challenges in a crosswind. Since the center of mass is aft of the pivot point (main wheels), any sideways motion will only get worse if not corrected immediately, unlike a nosewheel craft that tends to be self-straightening (up to a point, of course). Most tailwheel airplanes have relatively large rudders to help in controlling the aircraft on the ground, but this, too is a double-edged sword: More vertical fin presents more of a sail to the wind in a crosswind. It’s often not so much the landing as the roll-out that gets you. With a strong enough wind, virtually all tailwheel airplanes will reach a point where directional control on the ground becomes impossible—especially in a quartering tailwind, which greatly reduces rudder effectiveness. When that happens, you may become a passenger along for a nasty ride.
The wind also impacts your en route comfort. Now that I may go
back and forth across the Kaiwi Channel five or six times in a day, I’ve
been able to experience some pretty crazy wind games. One day, while
HNL was using Trades procedures with a southeasterly wind, I landed at
Moloka’i on runways 5, 17, and 23 on successive flights. Kalaupapa
was blowing strong trades throughout. Some days, moving a half mile
one way or another will get you a smooth path and other days the air is
lively and there isn’t a smooth patch to be found. Point is, you’ve
got to be aware of what the wind is doing right now, because what it was
just doing a minute ago is history and irrelevant and not the least bit
Just Don’t Have Nuthin’ Better to Do
Still Trying to Kill
In the meantime, plan now to attend the big Hana Fly In on June 16th, where we’ll have trophies for the accuracy landing event. And again, in September, plan to go to the Poor Man’s Fly-In at Port Allen, Kaua’i.
Be careful out there, please!
Hank’s Ratings: Frank Diranna and Donn Yeager CFI Spin Endorsement.