Flight Operations

Flight Operations

Civil Pilot Training: Some Changes in the Offing
by Carl Marquis, Civil Aviation Safety Inspector, Flight Training, General Aviation, Civil Aviation, Transport Canada

Traditional approaches to civil pilot training have not significantly changed over the past several decades; however, soon there will be an alternative for those aspiring pilots wishing to pursue a career in commercial airline flying.

Are we providing the most efficient training methodologies for those students wishing to pursue employment in the airline industry? Are we certain that they are adequately prepared to meet the demands of modern-day transport-category aircraft? Have our training approaches kept pace with advancements in technology and simulation capabilities? Are we too focused on attaining prescribed entry-level requirements as opposed to achieving the required competencies to do a job? Have we confused the issue between prescribed hours of "exposure" and the real definition of the term "experience"? These questions may be thought-provoking, and once posed, the answers will certainly stir debate.

At the request of the Air Navigation Commission, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) established a Flight Crew Licensing and Training Panel (FCLTP) to review ICAO's Annex 1 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation-Personnel Licensing. It consisted of 64 participants, including members and observers nominated by 18 contracting States and 5 international organizations. This Panel was to take into consideration the significant advances in technology and the increased complexities of pilot work environments since the previous review was conducted, some 20 years earlier.

Among the recommendations made by the Panel was the need for some directional changes with respect to current licensing practices. This involved the expanded use of simulation, the determination of more relevant training standards, and the creation of a new licensing structure. Those changes are now reflected in ICAO's Annex 1 and their Procedures for Air Navigation Services-Training (PANS-TRG) document, which came into effect on November 23, 2006. Of particular significance is that this publication provides guidance for the implementation of a new internationally-recognized pilot licence-the multi-crew pilot licence (MPL).

The decision that Canada would proceed with rulemaking for the MPL was announced at the Civil Aviation Regulatory Advisory Council (CARAC) Plenary meeting in December 2006. Since the MPL is dependent upon the training being conducted by an approved training organization (ATO), the rulemaking endeavours will include developing the components necessary for the Canadian certification of an ATO.

This new aviation document will signify that the holder has successfully undergone a Transport Canada-authorized MPL flight training program, and has demonstrated the competencies to perform the duties of a co-pilot of a multi-engine, turbine-powered airplane under either VFR or IFR conditions. In other words, the holder can be employed as a first-officer with an airline in a multi-crew environment. Because of reductions in traditionally-prescribed actual flight time exposure requirements, there are anticipated to be some restrictions attached to the MPL that are not necessarily associated with the more familiar pilot licences. For instance, holders of an MPL will only be able to exercise the privilege of their instrument rating while flying as a copilot. Furthermore, depending upon the makeup of the completed MPL training program, the holder may not have achieved all the prescribed requirements necessary to obtain a private pilot licence. This situation could, therefore, prohibit a commercial airline pilot who is type rated on a Dash-8, for instance, from flying solo in a Cessna-172.

The issuance of an MPL will follow the completion of a rigorous and continuous four-phased training course designed specifically for the ab initio (zero flight time) candidate. Prior to commencing the program, candidates will be subjected to a careful selection process to identify the existence of those attributes believed to best optimize the chances of success. Then, throughout the syllabus, the focus will be on the students' ability to consistently achieve benchmarked levels of skill, knowledge, and attitudinal competencies. A critical element in all this is the continuous development of desirable behaviours and management skills through the adaptation of the principles taught in crew resource management (CRM) and threat and error management (TEM) training.

MPL Training Scheme
Minimum 240 hours of training including pilot flying (PF) and pilot not flying (PNF)
Phase of training Training items Flight and simulated flight training media-minimum level requirement Ground training media
Integrated TEM Principles Advanced
Type rating training within an airline orientated environment
  • Crew resource management (CRM)
  • Landing training
  • All weather scenarios
  • Line-oriented flight training (LOFT)
  • Abnormal procedures
  • Normal procedures
Aeroplane: turbine, multi-engine and multi-crew certified 12* takeoffs and landings as PF
  • Computer-based training (CBT)
  • E-learning
  • Part task trainer
  • Classroom
Flight simulation training device (FSTD) Type IV PF/PNF
Application of multi-crew operations in a high performance multi-engine turbine aeroplane
  • CRM
  • LOFT
  • Abnormal procedures
  • Normal procedures
  • Multi-crew
  • Instrument flight
Introduction of multi-crew operations and instrument flight
  • CRM
  • PF/PNF complement
  • IFR cross-country
  • Upset recovery
  • Night flight
  • Instrument flight
Aeroplane:single or multi-engine PF/PNF
Core flying skills
Specific basic single pilottraining
  • CRM
  • VFR cross-country
  • Solo flight
  • Basic instrument flight
  • Principles of flight
  • Cockpit procedures
Aeroplane:single or multi-engine PF

* May be reduced

Figure 1: Illustrative of attributes of an MPL program

To accomplish all the desired outcomes will necessitate a robust quality assurance (QA) system and an on-going evaluation process designed to immediately detect and effectively deal with student performance deficiencies.

The development of a performance-oriented syllabus will require an instructional systems design (ISD) approach, with emphasis on defining progressive levels of individual knowledge, skill, and attitudinal competencies. This will generate a learning environment focused on the outcomes of each training event and the continuous improvement of student performance. This type of program will need to be backed by an exacting validation process, which will be heavily dependent upon data collection and airline feedback once the student enters the workforce. There may even be a need for the creation of a national MPL advisory board to ensure continued refinement of processes and course content.

As mentioned earlier, the delivery of an MPL course is dependent upon it being conducted by an ATO. To that end, a new regulatory framework dealing with the TC-certification of ATOs is currently being developed. The intention is that the associated regulations and standards will be "performance-based" in nature. This approach to rulemaking recognizes that the traditionally prescriptive, one-size-fits-all regulatory structure often unnecessarily complicates the process of achieving the desired results. The proposed regulations and standards will then tend to centre more on identifying "what" is required rather than dictating to industry "how" they must achieve those requirements. An interesting feature afforded by such an outcome-based approach is that these organizations will be permitted to seek approval for "alternative means of regulatory compliance" with the requirements prescribed in the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs). The proviso is that the ATO's proposal to deviate must ensure an equivalent level of safety and conform to the original intent of the regulation or standard. This provision will represent a huge enabler for this type of training service provider to make innovative and cost-effective decisions. This is due in large part to the benefits of possessing a highly developed and effective QA system-a system that is excellent at identifying risks and instituting effective control measures to mitigate them. This QA system will be mandated through regulation for all ATOs to gain and retain their certification.

The development of a performance-based environment recognizes the close relationships that ATOs offering MPL programs will inevitably form with air carriers. The same will be true with those that choose to augment their business model by providing initial type rating, recurrent, and specialty training to commercial air operators under contract. This type of flexibility will inevitably be helpful in permitting the ATO's services to conform to both the regulatory environment and the operational needs of the client air carrier.

Currently, this initiative is a work in progress being managed by a team within Transport Canada Civil Aviation (TCCA). Members of the team have experience in both airline operations and the provision of crew training services. Notwithstanding, we are working closely with organizations that have expressed an interest in offering MPL training programs and gaining certification as an ATO. Our intention is to continue to expand our communication efforts with the many stakeholders in the industry, and we look forward to receiving your feedback as the ATO-MPL project moves forward. Should you or your organization wish to receive electronic communiqués or offer comments regarding this initiative, please e-mail the ATO-MPL Program Coordinator at norrisl@tc.gc.ca.

Fly Only As Fast As You Can See
by Bob Grant, Civil Aviation Safety Inspector, Aerodromes and Air Navigation Standards, Standards, Civil Aviation, Transport Canada

This article is an updated version of "Don't Fly Faster Than You Can See.", also written by Bob Grant, which was originally published in Aviation Safety Vortex 1/1998. The article is based on research from veteran safety expert Gerard M. Bruggink. Since only the relatively small Vortex audience had the chance to read it, we felt it would be beneficial to publish it again, 10 years later, in the Aviation Safety Letter. -Ed.

You are flying just above the hills and trees, trying to maintain visual contact with the surface, with a visibility of less than 1 000 ft. You're watching for obstacles, hoping that when they loom out of the grey, you'll have enough room and time to make an evasive turn. You're very uneasy.no, you're frightened. You should have turned back 20 min ago.but you didn't. You've reduced your airspeed from 100 kt to 80 kt.

How much forward distance will you travel from the moment you see an obstacle until you complete the first 90° of an evasive turn? If your total forward travel exceeds the existing forward visibility, you're in big trouble. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) could attribute your demise to: "flight into low ceiling and visibility conditions."

We all slow down-at least I hope we do-when we encounter fog or snow while driving our cars because of the reduced visibility. We should use the same protective instinct when flying. That being said, a fixed-wing aircraft can only be slowed to just above the stall speed.

Figure 1 is based on the assumption that it takes about 5 s to perceive the problem, make a decision, and then initiate a corrective action. You can argue that it won't take 5 s to react, and you could be correct-it may take more than 5 s. The forward distance traveled during these five seconds-in no wind conditions-is a function of true airspeed (TAS), and is shown by the straight line on the lower portion of the graph. At 80 kt, the aircraft's forward displacement in 5 s is 676 ft.

Fly Only As Fast As You Can See - Figure 1

Figure 1

Assuming that the escape manoeuvre consists of a coordinated turn, it is obvious that the first 90° will bring the aircraft closer to the obstacle over a distance equal to the radius of the turn. For reference purposes, a bank angle of 30° is used as a standard. At 80 kt, this would produce a turn radius of 984 ft (and a rate of turn of 8°/s). Therefore, the total displacement of the aircraft toward the obstacle, from the moment of perception until the completion of a 90° turn, would be 676 + 984 = 1 660 ft. With a given visibility of 1 000 ft, your problem is simply the lack of 660 ft to manoeuvre in. In other words, impact becomes inevitable unless you engage in some last-second acrobatics, which would probably only produce a more spectacular mishap.

What would your chances be if you reduced your speed to 40 kt (if you could as in a helicopter) with the same 1 000-ft visibility? A look at Figure 1 shows that your total forward displacement in that case would be 338 + 246 = 584 ft. This would give you an approximate 400-ft visibility margin (and a 6-s time margin).

Fly Only As Fast As You Can See - Figure 2

Figure 2

Figure 2 shows the theoretical relationship between existing visibility and maximum safe airspeed for various speeds and bank angles. It can easily be seen that pilots who operate in a higher speed region must give themselves a lot more manoeuvring room under conditions of poor visibility. For instance, at 180 kt (quite likely fixed-wing), the total displacement toward the obstacle during an evasive manoeuvre with a 30° bank turn is about 1 NM. The implication is that, at 180 kt, the pilot needs at least 1 ¼ NM visibility. When speed is reduced to 100 kt, forward displacement is about 2 300 ft and a visibility of ½ NM will give a reasonable margin of safety.

These figures are based on no-wind conditions. It speaks for itself that a headwind works for the pilot and a tailwind works against. It should also be noted-and this is the key point-that poorly-visible obstacles, such as wires, dead trees, and towers may increase the visibility requirement by a factor of 10 or more. We can easily see that blasting along at 100 kt may not be all that smart when visibility is down to ½ NM. The dotted lines in Figure 2 show the total forward displacement when bank angles of 20° and 40° are used. The only purpose of this article is to show that, theoretically at least, forward visibility is directly related to a maximum safe airspeed, as shown in Figure 3.

Visibility Maximum Safe Airspeed
600 ft Below 40 kt
1/8 NM Below 50 kt
1 000 ft Below 60 kt
1/4 NM Below 75 kt
2 000 ft Below 90 kt
1/2 NM Below 115 kt
3/4 NM Below 150 kt
1 NM Below 175 kt

Figure 3

Maximum and theoretically are stressed, because the figures above do not take into consideration hard-to-see objects that could ruin your day. These figures don't tell you how to fly your aircraft when visibility is poor. Neither do they take into account the fact that your eyes are going to be in and around the cockpit from time to time, which means that when you look up and see the obstacle for the first time, you may be past the point of no return. They do, however, act as a reminder that smart pilots don't fly faster than they can see, perceive and react.

Use of Non-Aircraft Parts in Critical Systems in Amateur-Built Aircraft
An aviation safety information letter from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB).

On July 20, 2005, an amateur-built VariEze departed Runway 12 at the Lethbridge, Alta., airport on a visual flight rules (VFR) flight to Airdrie, Alta. The aircraft was observed to be trailing smoke as it departed on the downwind leg for Runway 12, and one minute and twenty seconds after takeoff, the pilot advised the Lethbridge flight service station (FSS) that the aircraft was on fire. The pilot subsequently attempted to force-land in a grain field approximately five-eights of a mile to the northwest of the airport. After touchdown the aircraft nosed over, struck the shoulder of a secondary road, and came to rest inverted on the road. An intense post-impact fire ensued and the pilot, the sole occupant, sustained fatal injuries. (TSB Class 5 occurrence A05W0148.)

The aircraft had been modified shortly before the accident, with the installation of a turbocharged, liquid cooled Rotax 914 UL-2 pusher engine (serial number: V9144874), which replaced the original Lycoming O-235 engine. This was reportedly the only VariEze flying at the time with this engine configuration. Post-impact examination of the airframe and engine indicated the aircraft had sustained an intense, in-flight engine fire. This was consistent with witness observations. The short duration of the flight and degree of in-flight fire damage to the engine and cowlings indicated the fire was fuel-fed from within the engine compartment.

In addition to the engine installation being unique to this model of aircraft, the engine itself was also highly modified, with the addition of an intercooler on the induction system and higher compression cylinders and pistons. A major repair or alteration to an amateur-built aircraft requires re-licensing and issuance of a new airworthiness certificate and operating limitations. Although the original Special Airworthiness Certificate that was issued to the aircraft specified that no changes could be made without notifying the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the recent modifications had not been reported to the FAA.

A piece of detached, heat-damaged tubing, complete with clamp and remnants of a burned rubber hose, was recovered from an unburned area of the wreckage trail. The tubing was submitted to the TSB Engineering Branch to determine if it was a fuel system component (see Figure 1) and the mode of failure. Examination of the fracture surface of the fitting did not identify any signs of a progressive failure; however, the fracture surface displayed fire damage. As the tubing, clamp, and hose were recovered from an area of the wreckage trail that was not exposed to the post-impact fire, the fire damage likely occurred prior to impact (see Figure 2).

Figure 1: Heat-damaged tubing, hose and clamp recovered from the wreckage trail

Visual and dimensional comparison of the tube fragment indicated it was the inlet post of a NAVMAN fuel flow transducer. Information provided by NAVMAN revealed the fuel flow transducer was designed for marine applications, and not for use in aircraft. At present, there is no FAA or Transport Canada (TC) regulation that precludes the installation of non-aviation parts in critical systems in amateur-built aircraft.

The major portion of the fuel flow transducer was not recovered. Due to the extent of fire and impact damage, the precise location of the transducer was not determined. The engine fuel system utilized a fuel pressure regulator that bypassed surplus fuel back to the fuel tanks; therefore, the transducer would most likely have been mounted between the fuel pressure regulator and the carburetors within the engine compartment so as to accurately record the amount of fuel actually being consumed. The transducer was designed to be mounted on the suction side of a fuel pump, rather than on the pressure side. It was manufactured from a composite glass FORTRON material. It had a published maximum operating temperature of 50°C and a component failure temperature of 509°C. Fuel flow transducers used in aircraft applications are normally mounted within the engine compartment, and transducer housings are usually made of stainless steel. The engine compartment would see temperatures of several hundred degrees Celsius during normal operation, particularly near the turbocharger, and if the transducer was mounted in the engine compartment, it could have been exposed to temperatures that exceeded its maximum designed environmental temperature range.

Figure 2: Close-up of heat-damaged fracture

The airframe and engine were fire damaged to the extent that no component testing or leak checks could be accomplished. While the occurrence is consistent with the aircraft having sustained a fuel-fed in-flight engine fire, the exact reason for the fire could not be determined.

There is a potential risk related to the use of non-aviation components in critical systems in amateur-built aircraft. Failure of a critical fuel system component, such as a non-aviation fuel flow transducer within an aircraft engine compartment, could result in a pressure-fed fuel leak which, if ignited, would generate an intense in-flight engine fire. Builders must consider the application, environmental exposure, and consequence of component failure when installing components that are not produced under a production certificate, a technical standard order (TSO) or a parts manufacturer approval on an amateur-built aircraft. While investigators were unable to directly link the origin of the in-flight fire to the marine fuel flow transducer in this case, there may be other situations where the use of non-aviation parts in critical systems present an on-going risk in the amateur-built aviation community.

Procedures in the event of in-flight engine fire in single-engine aircraft

The TSB issued a second safety information letter as a result of this occurrence. As noted above, the aircraft sustained an intense, in-flight engine fire. While the exact cause of the fire was not determined, the short duration of the flight and degree of in-flight fire damage to the engine and cowlings indicated the fire was fuel-fed from within the engine compartment.

Fuel was supplied to the engine through two electric boost pumps (one main pump and one auxiliary pump) and a fuel selector. The electric fuel pumps were capable of pumping fuel at rates in excess of 30 U.S. gallons per hour. Wreckage examination determined that the fuel selector handle was in the vertical position, which indicated it was selected to the auxiliary fuselage tank, and the fuel boost pump switches and magneto switches were in the ON positions at impact.

The standard emergency procedures in the event of an in-flight engine fire in a single-engine aircraft include placing the fuel selector and boost pump switches in the OFF positions, placing the magneto switches in the OFF positions, and performing an engine-out landing in the most suitable available area. If the fire does not extinguish quickly, a pilot may dive the aircraft in an effort to find an airspeed that will provide an incombustible fuel/air mixture. The VariEze Owner's Manual states that in the event of an in-flight fire one should: determine the cause-if electrical, all electrical power off; if fuel, fuel off and electrical power off-and execute a precautionary landing as soon as possible.

The accident occurred within approximately three minutes of takeoff. The fire appeared to have burned with increasing intensity from the time the aircraft was first observed to be trailing smoke to the time of impact. While the pilot was able to maintain control of the aircraft up to the point of touchdown in the grain field, there was no evidence that he had taken the immediate actions necessary to stem the flow of fuel to the engine. Allowing fuel to continue to pressure-feed into the engine bay significantly increased the intensity of the fire and likely precluded any possibility of self-extinguishment.

Although generally rare events, in-flight engine fires are serious and time-critical emergencies. In this occurrence, non-actioning of the emergency procedures necessary to stem the flow of pressure-fed fuel to the engine may have contributed to the severity of the accident. Vital immediate actions-including selecting the fuel boost pumps, fuel selector and magneto switches to the OFF positions-are necessary to reduce the intensity of, or extinguish, an in-flight engine fire as soon as possible. Pilots must be familiar with the procedures to handle uncommon but critical in-flight emergencies, such as engine fires, and must respond accordingly in order to reduce the risk of structural failure, post-impact fire damage, or loss of control and destruction of an aircraft with related occupant injuries or fatalities.

In The Heat of the Moment-Firefighting and Helicopters
by Rob Freeman, Acting Program Manager, Rotorcraft Standard, Certification and Operational Standards, Standards, Civil Aviation,Transport Canada

The following Aviation Safety Alert comes courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service. It makes for very interesting reading for a number of reasons; primarily because of the higher accident rate for helicopters used on firefighting tasks, but also because of how the helicopters were used when those accidents occurred. Surprisingly, almost three quarters of USDA Forest Service accidents that occurred between 1995 and 2005 , involved external loads, and more than half involved water buckets.

You might argue that this is to be expected-after all, buckets and external loads are an integral part of firefighting, but some of the occurrences have been unusual. In one incident, the crew convinced the pilot that using the water bucket as a wrecking ball to knock down a dead tree was a good idea! He got away with it, but none of the bucket manufacturers have this listed as "other uses" in their marketing brochures. In contrast, snagging the longline has resulted in many serious or fatal accidents in Canada. Other incidents in this Aviation Safety Alert reflect alarming trends toward on-the-spot improvisation.

Of all the tasks you can perform in a helicopter, working on forest fires in particular can make a pilot feel like the central figure in an action movie-smoke, flames, noise, equipment, and crews deployed in and out of tough spots on short notice; even the possibility of evacuating towns at risk. Other operators' crews are watching. All eyes are on you. "Here's the job. I know it's tough. Are you pilot enough to handle it?" The pressure quickly mounts, and it takes maturity to remember where the lines are and not get sucked into the emotional vortex.

What's the lesson here? When you are assigned to forest fire duty, particularly if you are new to the business, you have to keep the adrenalin rush at bay. On a big fire, there is a sense of urgency that can overcome common sense, and as "The Pilot," you may be at the pointy end of a really bad idea. Normally, the fire management folks are fully aware of the machine's capabilities, but that is not always the case. On a large fire, personnel unfamiliar with helicopter operations may be called in to cover, and a hurriedly appointed "supervisor" may suggest a task that is beyond your ability. You have to be ready to say no, when it is appropriate. Remember that you always have that option.

We have to assume that less-than-great ideas do not respect international borders, and that some of the activities listed in the USDA Forest Service Aviation Safety Alert may have found their way north. Obviously, using equipment for a purpose for which it is not designed should not be entertained. It puts you into the test pilot category with attendant high risk and no safety net or official authorization. It's all bad news from here.

If you are asked to try something out of the ordinary, for which you have not been trained, or is not contained in your operations manual standard operating procedures (SOPs), a call to the chief pilot or operations manager should be the first priority. Fires are tough enough assignments, without having to fly with crossed fingers too!

United States Department of Agriculture

Forest Service

No. 2005-01(July 1, 2005)

Aviation Safety Alert

Subject: Helicopter External Load Operations, Safety and Risk Assessment
Area of Concern: Fire and Aviation Operations
Distribution: Fire and Aviation Personnel

The most important part of any risk assessment is to identify the hazard(s) of a particular operation before taking action. In our firefighting discipline it can be challenging to decide which poses the greater hazard, when every option you consider contains potential for multiple ground and aerial incidents.

Recently a helicopter was supporting a fire with bucket drops. A burning snag on the fireline was causing concern with visible widow-makers, a steep slope, active burning, and exposure across a handline. Fire personnel, including helitack personnel and the IC were involved in a deliberate risk assessment process before electing to use the helicopter for additional mitigation. Previous water drops had been unsuccessful in extinguishing the burning snag. They subsequently elected to use the bucket as a wrecking ball against the tree and the pilot accepted their decision. Several personnel stated they had seen this done in several other geographic areas. After bumping the tree a few times enough widow-makers were dislodged that fallers felt safe in cutting the snag down. Finally, the mission was accomplished without injury to ground personnel or damage to the helicopter, crew and/or bucket.

However, analysis of earlier mishaps shows that we have not always been so lucky. Review of the last 10 years of accident history shows 26 helicopter accidents, of them 19 accidents (73%) occurred while operating with an external load, 14 occurred with buckets (54%).

For example, an AS316 in August 1998 snagged a bucket in trees, snapped the long line which then wrapped around the tailrotor and the pilot lost control of the aircraft. The pilot survived but the aircraft was a total loss

A Bell 206 in August 2004 struck the main rotor blades in a tree top while attempting to helimop the base of a pine tree. While lowering the bucket along the tree trunk the pilot lost situational awareness and the main rotors struck the tree causing significant damage and down time.

In 2003 a contract pilot elected to use a longline for

extraction of a parachute from a treetop. He later stated to the disciplinary Pilot Review Board that he had heard that smokejumpers often used helicopters for similar "retrieval" missions.

After reviewing several incidents of similar risk taking, the Board decided that the type of behavior being exhibited should not be tolerated. The pilot's card was removed until he had attended additional aviation safety training to increase his risk awareness.

Mitigation of risk for helicopter external loads

There is no existing regulation or policy that restricts the use of a helicopter bucket, or any other external load from being used to batter trees, but it's not a good idea. Just because the manual doesn't say that you can't, doesn't mean that it is acceptable or safe. Here are some "common sense" practices to apply to any external load when attempting to assess and/or mitigate risks.

  • Use the equipment within the intended design application (i.e. to carry a load from point A to point B not as a wrecking ball or aerial grappling tool).
  • Plan the pickup and delivery to be accomplished with the main rotors well above the top of the canopy.
  • Landing areas and drop zones should be at least one and a half times the rotor diameter.
  • Avoid confined area operations in gusty wind conditions. (Ref. IHOG Chapter 6)
  • Keep buckets above the canopy line. Threading buckets down through trees accepts unnecessary risk.
  • Helicopter mopping operations are not efficient and increase exposure to risk of damage to the helicopter and injury to the pilot.
  • Match the aircraft and equipment to the mission after considering density altitude and weight and balance for "hot, high and heavy" conditions.
  • Avoid being caught up in a "Can DO" attitude that leads you to any helicopter mission that requires a non-standard practice, or operation not required by the contract.
  • Remember that over 70% of all Forest Service helicopter accidents have involved external load operations. When performing a risk assessment ask yourself, "what can go wrong here?"
  • When given several options, generally choose to apply the most conservative approach at accomplishing the mission.

Ron Hanks
National Aviation Safety and Training Manager
U.S. Forest Service

Thank you to Ms. Barbara Hall, Regional Aviation Fire and Training Manager for the USDA Forest Service, who provided this USDA Forest Service Aviation Safety Alert and authorized its reproduction in the Aviation Safety Letter (ASL).

Direct VFR Flight in Mountains Results in Another CFIT Accident

The pilot had been briefed visual meteorological conditions (VMC) existed in the mountain passes throughout his flight. He went direct, however, bringing into play some broken to overcast cloud layers hiding high mountain ridges.

On August 22, 2005, the pilot of a Cessna 180H and one passenger departed Springbank, Alta., at 11:06 Mountain Daylight Time (MDT), on a VFR flight to Boundary Bay, B.C. The aircraft was last recorded on ATC radar approximately 34 mi. southwest of Springbank, at 8 700 ft above sea level (ASL). The aircraft did not arrive in Boundary Bay, and there was no further contact with the flight. After an extensive search, the wreckage was found a week later at the 8 850-ft level on the east slope of Mount Burns in the Kananaskis region of Alberta. The aircraft was destroyed and both occupants sustained fatal injuries. This synopsis is based on the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) Final Report A05W0176.

The pilot had obtained a telephone weather briefing from the Edmonton flight information centre (FIC) at 07:38 MDT on the morning of the flight. The briefing indicated that VMC existed in the mountain passes between Alberta and British Columbia, and were expected to persist throughout the flight. The pilot filed a VFR flight plan, which included a direct routing from Springbank (CYBW) to Cranbrook, B.C. (CYXC), at 12 500 ft ASL.

The observed 11:00 weather at Springbank was as follows: light southerly winds, visibility 30 SM, few clouds at 4 000 ft above ground level (AGL) and 8 000 ft AGL, broken clouds at 24 000 ft AGL, temperature 15°C and dew point 6°C. The 11:00 weather at Cranbrook was as follows: calm winds, visibility 25 SM, few clouds at 13 000 ft AGL, overcast cloud at 22 000 ft AGL, temperature 14°C, and dew point 4°C.

The graphical area forecast (GFA) valid for six hours from 06:00 indicated that a weakening cold front was moving through the planned flight route. Broken cloud layers were expected between 9 000 ft and 18 000 ft, with isolated embedded altocumulus castellanus (ACC) giving visibilities more than 6 SM in light rain showers.

Environment Canada's analysis of conditions at the accident site indicated scattered to broken cumulus based at 6 000 ft with tops at 7 000 ft, and broken to overcast ACC based between 8 000 ft and 9 000 ft, with tops between 10 000 ft and 12 000 ft. Downflow and occasional moderate turbulence were predicted on the eastern slopes of the mountains in a southwesterly flow of up to 30 kt. Icing was not likely to have been present.

Generally, VMC existed at the lower levels in the mountain passes between Springbank and Cranbrook. The direct route flown by the pilot did not make use of these passes. Clouds were visible on the mountains to the southwest of Springbank when the pilot obtained a weather update from the FIC at 09:34.

Routine weather observations were recorded at two Alberta Forest Protection Service lookout towers: at Moose Mountain (18 NM north of the accident site) and at Junction Mountain (10 NM to the southeast). At the time of the only official observations, at 07:00, cloud covered both lookouts. The cloud had lifted by 11:00; however, the higher mountain tops were still obscured by broken cloud at the time of the accident.

A pilot who flew from Fairmont, B.C., to Springbank at about 10:00 reported that cloud, which was topped at 10 000 ft, obscured the mountain tops on the east slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

ATC radar at the Calgary, Alta., NAV CANADA facility tracked the aircraft from shortly after takeoff until impact. After departure, the aircraft climbed to 8 300 ft on a track of 229° true (T) and gradually drifted down to 7 900 ft. The aircraft then commenced a climb and struck the mountain about two minutes later, at 11:27. The last recorded heading was 195°T, which was 17° left of the direct track from Springbank to Cranbrook. The aircraft's ground speed was recorded at between 80 kt and 120 kt during this period.

The aircraft contacted a near vertical cliff on the northeast face of a 9 000-ft ridge. The point of impact was about 50 ft from the top of the ridge, which was oriented southeast to northwest. Damage to the aircraft indicated that it was in straight and level flight at the time of impact. Most of the wreckage came to rest on a steep scree slope about 100 ft below the point of impact. The propeller was not found; however, examination of the engine crankshaft indicated that the engine was delivering some power at impact. Higher terrain existed within one mile on an extension of the aircraft's track past the ridge.

Search and rescue (SAR) was activated within one hour of the aircraft being declared overdue on its flight plan. Although the aircraft was found within 2 NM of the flight planned track, visual sighting of the wreckage was difficult due to the large search area involved, extremely rugged mountainous terrain, patchy snow cover, and break up of the aircraft from impact and fire. The pilot held a private pilot licence restricted to VFR and had accumulated about 1 500 flight hours, most of which were on the accident aircraft. The aircraft was certified, maintained, and equipped in accordance with existing regulations.

View of the accident site

View of the accident site

The Flight Safety Foundation defines a controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accident as, "one in which an airworthy aircraft, under the control of the crew, is flown unintentionally into terrain, obstacles, or water with no prior awareness on the part of the crew of the impending collision." This occurrence fits the definition of CFIT. Since it does not appear that significant, timely evasive manoeuvres were attempted to avoid impact with the mountain, it is likely that the pilot did not have visual contact with the mountain top. The flight profile obtained from ATC radar data and wreckage trail analysis suggests that, at the time of impact, the aircraft was under control and the engine was developing power. Since the aircraft struck the ridge at a relatively stable airspeed and heading (straight and level flight), it is likely that the pilot's vision was obscured by cloud immediately before impact. It is also possible that, in attempting to cross the ridge, the aircraft entered a downdraft and was unable to out-climb the terrain. Had the aircraft successfully crossed the 9 000-ft ridge, its track would have intercepted significantly higher terrain within one mile.

The pilot's weather briefing was correct, in that good VFR conditions existed in the mountain passes and at both ends of the first leg of the planned flight route from Springbank to Cranbrook. Although his briefing detailed existing and forecast weather in the passes, a direct route was filed and flown. Since there was broken cloud obscuring most of the high mountain tops along the east slopes of the mountains, weather conditions encountered by the aircraft at the altitude flown on the direct route would have been worse than those at the lower levels in the passes. The TSB concluded that the aircraft was likely flown into cloud, which prevented the pilot from seeing and avoiding the high mountainous terrain.

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