To the Letter


Simulating the 180° turn to runway

We pilots have all heard that the 180° turn back to the runway is risky. I decided to try that scenario on my home computer with a flight simulator. Here is the scene:Meig’s Field, Chicago; altitude 592 ft; single 4000ft runway; Cessna Skylane with retractable gear. I did a succession of engine failures at different heights above ground level-200, 300, 400ft, etc.-with winds ranging from no headwind to 30 mph.

The "typical flight" would start with a full power takeoff from the beginning of the runway, then I would climb out to approximately 400ft, chop the throttle, establish glide and attempt to return to the field. I did this repeatedly, with different headwinds, giving myself different heights when the engine "failed." Here is the result:I could not make it back if the engine failed below 500ft, and even at that height, some headwind was necessary to keep me close to the field. Even trying it at 600 or 700ft was difficult; the headwind that might keep me close to the field might also blow me past the end of the runway.

I invite anyone with a quality flight simulator on their computer to try this out at home. You will find yourself flying into the ground most of the time, but sometimes an ideal combination of enough height and wind will get you back in one piece. In a REAL failure soon after takeoff, hope for height and luck in abundance. The "land straight ahead" option is the best in this truly unfortunate situation. Having tried the simulation, I cannot conceive that a pilot in such a stressful situation would be capable of the assessment necessary to make "The Decision" to return to the runway.

Joe Foster

Thank you Mr. Foster. This is a recurring notion which is important for all to reflect on, and prepare for, at each and every takeoff. Expecting the unexpected can make a world of difference. Discuss this subject with flight instructors and peers. Also, keep in mind that any successful landing made using a flight simulator may not translate into a similar success in a real situation. As good as they are, flight simulators cannot possibly account for all conditions and variables, particularly the stress involved. -Ed.

The aging aviator

To write about "aging aviators" is like writing about "aging rock stars"-just plain silly and intellectually lazy because we are all aging, and at the same rate:one day per day, one year per year.

Gradually, the accumulated insults to the body start making themselves apparent. Vision problems, poor hearing, and unreliable memory become undeniable parts of daily life. All these issues have flight safety implications. Transport Canada(TC) medical exams check that our vision and hearing remain satisfactory for pilot-in-command(PIC)duties, but I remember nothing in 46years of TC medicals that would evaluate memory or thinking abilities-and these concerns are starting to loom large for many of us.

Not trusting your aircraft is a safety hazard. It distracts you from important flight-related thinking, such as situational awareness, fuel management or slow weather changes. It can also lead to poor decisions because your judgment is already spring-loaded to expect mechanical failure. You jump every time your ears clear, or you notice a vibration for the first time, or smell something new.

But what if you don’t trust yourself? "I don’t remember locking the house," is not much different from "I don’t remember putting that darned gas cap back on," except that the latter can distract you from important aviatorial thinking. You worry about whether you are safe to fly with the memory deficits that are beginning to surface. But an individual pilot doesn’t know if he or she is any different from anybody else at this stage of life. Maybe those greyhaired trans-Atlantic777 captains are also misplacing their sunglasses on top of their heads. Are you crying before you’re hurt?

It would be helpful not to have this worry on your mind. Perhaps there could be access to a standard test of memory and cognition, an objective measure of whether or not you are mentally safe to fly. Do well on it, and there’s one less distraction for you and one less worry for your spouse.

Rob McMillan
Winnipeg, Man.

Buttonville Flying Club does indeed think safety

I am writing this letter in response to the excellent article titled "Does Your Group Think Safety?" by Gerry Binnema, which was published in Aviation Safety Letter(ASL)4/2007.

I am the President of the Buttonville Flying Club, a.k.a. Canadian Owners and Pilots Association(COPA)Flight 44, which we understand may be the largest COPA flight. We have approximately 180 members; about 70 of them either own or share in the ownership of an aircraft, and quite a few other members purchase block time as a reasonable approach to staying active and current with flying. As well, many of our members are IFR-rated, which we find is a practical, safer and more effective solution to moving around Toronto airspace.

We pride ourselves on a very active aviation safety program that leads to a highly developed awareness of and positive attitude toward safety among our members. Much of this activity is headed up by one of our members who voluntarily takes on the challenge of Flight Safety Officer. Our monthly meetings frequently cover such topics as "raising the bar" in both VFR and IFR safety, flying safely and effectively in the very busy Toronto airspace, proper IFR operations, effective engine management, area navigation(RNAV)procedures, weather flying, search and rescue(SAR), proper emergency locator transmitter(ELT) management, Civil Air Search and Rescue Association(CASARA)operations, and cross-border operations.

In addition to our regular monthly meetings, up to 20 of us gather every Saturday, Sunday and holiday mornings in the terminal at our home base at Toronto’s busy Buttonville airport, when, before we launch into the day’s flying, there is usually a discussion on some aviation safety topic.

I trust this input provides a useful response to Gerry Binnema’s thoughtful piece.

Paul Hayes
President and Flight Captain
Buttonville Flying Club

Vapour-proof safety flashlight

I would like to draw attention to the article titled "Detection of Water in Fuel Drums," published on page 4 of Aviation Safety Letter(ASL)3/2008. The use of a flashlight to spot water in a fuel drum could be very dangerous unless a vapour-proof safety flashlight is used. Unapproved flashlights can ignite fuel vapour via the switching mechanism. The conclusion outlined by the author of the article is correct:use water-finding paste on a dipstick-a perfectly safe and reliable way to detect the presence of water in the barrel.

As an added precaution, to prevent precipitation from seeping into a drum through the plugs or caps during storage, the drum should be propped up about 6in., arranged with the bungs located at each side. This method allows water to drain away from the bungs, preventing seepage into the barrel.

During refuelling operation from a barrel, it is also good practice to tilt the barrel, keeping the pump at the highest point when pumping out fuel. A cement or wooden block can be installed under the barrel as a method of keeping the pickup point for the pump as far as possible from any water that may have accumulated in the bottom of the barrel. Water will always accumulate at the low point; thus the reason for keeping the fuel pickup point a little on the high side.

Joe Scoles

Flying Over Cold Water? Time for Cold Water Boot Camp!

A new awareness campaign for recreational boaters on the deadly effects of cold water will surely benefit anyone flying over water. Read more about this campaign at, and about the ColdWaterBootCamp at

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