Is a "Safety Culture" Possible in the Lancair Community?
by jeff edwards
I just returned from a multi-state trip in my Lancair from my home base of St. Louis, MO, to San Marcos and Austin, TX, then on to Phoenix, AZ before heading back home. The trip was great! I've made cross-country trips like this many times, even back to my days flying in the Navy, only then the taxpayers were footing the bills. This trip was little different.
Preflight study of the weather indicated the trip was doable. The first leg was solo to San Marcos, with some forecast IFR weather at the destination which cleared out on arrival. I departed midday on Wednesday after two days in town due to weather in Texas and the possibility of icing on climb out. The delay did the trick! Sometimes adjusting the departure time can make big differences in weather situations.
My next destination was Phoenix Deer Valley (KDVT), with an enroute stop in El Paso for fuel. I could've made it to KDTV without a stop—a four-hour leg—but that would've meant landing with only IFR reserve fuel remaining. I didn't want to chance coming up short on fuel in the event of delays going into Phoenix’s busy airspace, hence the stop in El Paso. Better safe than sorry.
After two days in Phoenix it was time to fly east to St. Louis. Again, keeping a close eye on weather forecasts and leaving midday so as not to be fatigued for a late night arrival worked out well. As on the previous flight, I had a four-hour trip that would leave only IFR reserve fuel on arrival. My weather review at KDVT prior to departure for home indicated I would spend the last 45 minutes in IMC at cruise altitude (FL 190), followed by a night landing in VMC. Instead, I dropped in for a quick turn at Yingling’s nice FBO at Wichita's Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport (KICT—formerly known as Mid-Continent Airport) to onload fuel. You cannot have too much fuel in that situation. Edwards' first rule of flight planning states do not land with less than one-hour reserve fuel unless you have day, CAVU weather at your destination.
Same ol' same ol'
This month a new Lancair 360 owner pranged his airplane attempting to land. A witness reported seeing pilot-induced oscillations on landing. What is worrisome is this ATP-rated (airline captain) pilot apparently ignored recommendations to get transition training. Scratch one 360.
This accident could have been easily avoided. As an aircraft accident investigator and flight instructor, my flying interests turn towards identifying hazards and analyzing and mitigating the risk of flight. Unfortunately for our Lancair community accidents continue to occur, a big downside of which for all of us is the increasing cost and decreasing availability of hull and liability insurance coverage. Many Lancair owners have been priced out of the insurance market. If an aircraft purchase is financed then insurance is required. So, high premiums or non-existent insurance hurts all of us—especially those who are selling/buying Lancair (and other EAC) aircraft where financing and insurance are required.
LOBO surveyed our members last year and found many were self-insuring due to insurance cost and availability. Short of FAA-mandated transition training, what can we as a group do to change that? For one, we can work to improve the safety culture within our community. Dr. Rick Beach from COPA gave an interesting talk at our LOBO event in Santa Fe on this concept. He described the challenges that faced the Cirrus community and what they did to change their pilot culture. In spite of having a well-designed aircraft, Cirrus pilots were making serious errors and causing many accidents. Cirrus and COPA did a deep dive into the accident data and discovered pilots were not following guidance in the Cirrus AFM/ POH, especially when it came to landing procedures. The result was many landing-related accidents like the one mentioned above. So COPA worked on getting back to basics and after several years their hard work paid off with a large reduction in accidents.
Can COPA's Strategy Work For Us?
Our community faces a similar challenge. Our 2016 deep dive into almost 600 Lancair accident and incident reports demonstrated that failure to follow procedures is the number one factor in our accidents. The Lancair 360 in the accident described above was reportedly flying at 120 knots over the threshold on landing. This is simply a case of failure to follow published procedures by the accident pilot, something that most likely would have been avoided had he followed the advice to seek transition training.
Elsewhere, evidence of our wider community’s rebellious attitude towards sound and prudent flying practices is seen online in the forums. A recent discussion at LancairTalk.net involved a few Lancair pilots advocating for high-speed, low-altitude runway passes—even in excess of published VNE— among other things. The excuse offered by those involved almost always goes back to “hey, we are experimental,” as if that phrase gives them a free pass on regulations or the laws of physics. Lest we be taken as too critical of LancairTalk, one can find similar attitudes toward risk management on many online forums devoted to aviation, as well as Youtube and other social media platforms, even some that purport to offer training.
One recent video offered for sale as part of a training series depicted a wee Lancair pilot trapped on top of an icing layer as darkness approached while flying home to the east coast. He had many options to land short of his destination, but pressed ahead anyway. The pilot demonstrated poor decision making, as highlighted by the video. A presentation at last year's AirVenture by the same Lancair pilot detailed his winter-time, coast-to-coast trip. He noted he only had a light jacket with him in the cockpit for the trip. He landed at LAX and then promptly blew a tire. Why LAX? Why not Hawthorne or Santa Monica? Why risk flying into one of the busiest airports in the world in a 360? Can you say “Airbus 380 wake turbulence”? To his credit he admitted his errors and used the video produced by him to point out these mistakes. This is something we all can appreciate and aspire to, especially if we want to inculcate a safety culture in our community.
Most GA pilots fly as a hobby; it's not their vocation. Flying as a hobby, however, is not risk-free. What's the best way to mitigate risks? If you answered "planning" you get a gold star. Got a winter trip ahead? Perhaps you should pack a winter survival kit. Even getting stuck on a ramp at overnight in sub-freezing conditions is not fun and is potentially life threatening. For my recent trip I packed thermal coveralls, a winter coat and snow shoes for that winter cross country. Planning your first, serious long-distance cross-country flight? Maybe you should ask an experienced pilot or instructor to accompany you.
What Can You Do?
Our LOBO community is a great group of owners who care about making Lancair flying enjoyable and safe. As a member of a type club we are significantly safer than non-members, largely because we share information and listen to advice from our LOBO friends. We can foster a move toward a safety culture in the wider Lancair community by engaging non-members in conversations about identifying hazards to mitigate the risks involved in flying these great machines.
Sometimes that conversation is difficult, but it's always necessary. Whether it means publicly disagreeing with a pilot’s approach to flying and risk, recommending a good maintenance shop, offering advice on how to tackle that first, long cross-country flight, or just listening to concerns, the best way to promote safety is by engaging others. Often it takes many voices (or reinforcements) to get someone’s attention—so don’t be afraid to speak up. Remember, the COPA organization made great improvements by identifying key hazards and developing ways to address them, but it took a concerted effort by many—not one person—to make that happen.
So I encourage each of you to commit to positively impact our safety culture. Endeavour to improve your knowledge of your own Lancair; study your aircraft's systems and their operation under normal, abnormal and emergency conditions; review your aircraft's procedures; use checklists every time you fly for every phase of flight; take refresher training more frequently; try something new like a mountain flying course or a soaring lesson.
A Learning Opportunity
Years ago as a member of the Navy our squadron flight schedule for each day included an "emergency of the day." Every aircrew that flew that day briefed that particular emergency. The scheduling officer rotated emergencies throughout the month so every crew reviewed every emergency procedure in the book in due course.
To carry on that tradition, here is your "Emergency of the Day” for this month's flying:
Inadvertent Icing Conditions:
You see indications of accreting ice, including: a) Airspeed noticeably diminishes without power or pitch changes, and b) Ice buildup on wings and windshield (obviously).
- All deice/anti-ice systems — ON
- Exit icing conditions — turn toward area of last known ice-free conditions
- If necessary, declare an emergency with ATC
- Change altitude by at least 4000 feet or until clear of icing conditions (ice free altitude may be above you or below you*)
* The best defense against inadvertent icing penetration is good preflight planning using CIP and FIP icing products on www.aviationweather.gov/icing. At a minimum, you should know where to go (location/altitudes) to get clear of icing conditions.
For more information on icing see the following training material:
- NASA Aircraft Icing Training
- NASA Video - Icing for General Aviation Pilots
- FAA Ice-Induced Stall Pilot Training
- Air Safety Institute Icing Accident Case Study
- Air Safety Institute Icing and Cold Weather Operations
For questions or comments on this post contact Jeff via email at j.edwards [at] lancairowners.com.