Earlier tonight I attended an FAA Safety Seminar called The What Ifs, presented by Lennert Von Clemm. (Interestingly, he was the instructor I flew with on my second supervised Citabria solo.)

The FAA regularly organizes safety lectures in the Bay Area. A couple months ago I attended one that presented an analysis of flight accidents in the Bay Area. It turns out the some accident types are six times more likely here due to our unusual weather patters and terrain. In other areas, we're right in line with the national averages.

Tonight's session, attended by roughly 30 pilots, was all about the things we need to think about before something goes wrong. Len talked a lot about engine failures (both partial and complete), getting caught in bad weather, and the value of being prepared for the unexpected.

He reminded us of something that most pilots know that I suspect most non-pilots never think about:

The single most common cause of engine failure in planes is... running out of gas.

That's right. It's not a mechanical problem at all. Now there are any number of reasons it can happen, but they're almost the result of poor planning, laziness, or hubris. Len had some great stories about local pilots, accidents, and almost accidents. Each of them served to reinforce the point.

These sessions count toward the FAA Wings program which encourages pilots to participate in ongoing training, including lectures, book study, and in-flight work with an instructor.

There are two main benefits to the Wings program:

  • Pilots who participate can use their Wings experience to take the place of a Biennial Flight Review (BFR).
  • Participation in Wings goes in your FAA record. If you ever get called I front of the FAA for a violation, they'll often take that into consideration. It's not exactly a "get out of jail free" card, but it's the next best thing.

Now I just need to remember to hang on to the paperwork and get my instructor to sign off on it. It's never too early to start accumulating Wings credit.

Posted by jzawodn at January 03, 2006 10:03 PM

Reader Comments
# dan isaacs said:

Do they have a "Red Wings" program?

on January 3, 2006 10:33 PM
# Steve Foster said:

On Sunday I had my first emergency procedure. We had a successful runup with all gauges in the green, however not even 1000 feet into the takeoff my instructor yelled for me to abort. The oil pressure gauge went into the red. I throttled down and taxied off the runway. A little unnerving, to say the least.

The Jeppesen handbook has a chart showing when most pilot errors occur. Preflight, runup and taxiing are, by far, the highest.

You can never be too safe flying.

Dan, Red Wings sucků;) Do I ever miss that Avs/Wings rivalry, that was good hockey.

on January 4, 2006 04:17 AM
# Jeffrey Friedl said:

Back in the 80s I was working at a college airport which had an active flight school. There was some event far away where four people went (the head instructor, two other instructors, and a student) in a 72, I think. They ran out of gas along the way and crashed. Oops!

(I believe everyone was alright physcially, but one can surmise that not everyone was okay lawsuitwise)

I ran out of gas once on a motorcycle, and had to push the thing for five whole minutes. But hey, at least I had two wheels on the ground at all times....

on January 4, 2006 04:26 AM
# Nick Arnett said:

Long ago, I learned that crash investigators have observed that when there's no fire at a small plane crash, the cause is almost always running out of fuel. Since then, I've paid attention to how many small plane crashes involve fire... very few of them. Each news story I hear about a plane that crashes without catching fire has become a reminder to me.

A friend and I once flew his Mooney 231 from near Denver to SJC without refueling (impossible or at least very unwise, typically). It was winter and a storm system gave us tailwinds -- pretty unusual for flying west. As we approached our planned refueling stop, we realized that we could get to SJC with about 30 minutes fuel left. After a discussion and making absolutely sure that all the Bay Area aiports would be VFR, we decided to go for it. That's the only time I can recall allowing fuel to get that close to empty.

By the way, that guy and I had a deal that I would recommend to anybody who flies with a partner -- either of us had veto power, no discussion, when it came to weather. The 231 is turbocharged, so we could get above a lot of weather, so we'd frequently have to make a decision about marginal forecasts. We agreed from the beginning that there's a danger of talking each other into flying when we shouldn't... so that we wouldn't allow ourselves to talk each other *into* going. I think that kept us a lot safer. It's just too easy to push the envelope a little... to be a bold pilot, as the saying goes ("there are old pilots and bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots").

on January 4, 2006 08:15 AM
# Dirk Spiers said:

From an old instructor I learned the golden rule when encountering a problem:

1) Fly the god damn plane
2) Fix the problem.

Always in that order. He told me that so many get to involved in fixing the problem that thye forget to fly the plane and often hit terain. I found that the same rule applies to running a business. Whatever problems you have, make sure that customers remain satisfied.



on January 4, 2006 09:25 AM
# Charles said:

Funny that you mention hubris. A long time ago, my uncle (who is a pilot) told me that doctors and lawyers have the highest rates of crashes. They have more hubris than other mere mortals, and try to do things that no sane pilot would try.
BTW, my uncle is a doctor.

on January 4, 2006 10:15 AM
# Jeffrey McManus said:

I just want to say that "Lennert Von Clemm" is pretty much the best name ever.

on January 4, 2006 01:32 PM
# Paul Pencikowski said:

I was a reserve-bum flying F-4's out of Naval Air Station Dallas in 1977. Went to fly, left the BOQ none too soon as an F-8 ran out of gas in the pattern (returning from a 1,000nm flight) and hit about 100' from my room (amazingly, nobody got hurt). So yeah even the military is not immune to no-gas. In my Colt (1975) I once put 35 gallons into a 34 gallon system (never made that mistake again).

Incidently I passed my glider Private (add-on) at Estrella. I think it would be worth your while to chat about it (contact me via email and I'll send the number).


on January 4, 2006 09:43 PM
# Paul Pencikowski said:

P.S.>> Had my first "actual" at Estrella. Tow-line break at 600'agl, while turning away from the field. Reversed the turn (200-degree turn to the right) because I didn't want to hard-turn into the towplane, and entered a close/low downwind. First spoiler deployment was on final, at about 200'agl (I never worried; I really "had it made" the whole way around, Grob-103).

on January 4, 2006 09:55 PM
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