AOPA Pilot Magazine - March 2008 - 62

SAFETYPILOT BY BRUCE LANDSBERG EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AOPA AIR SAFETY FOUNDATION Déjà vu: 50 years of mishaps I n looking back at nearly 50 years of general aviation accident reporting, what is surprising is how few surprises there are. In GA, the reason eliminated in nosewheel aircraft. Tailwheel airplanes predominated 50 years ago and they regularly cracked up on landing—1,001 times to be exact. In 2006 the total number of landing mishaps, not just groundloops and noseovers, was 392. Moving the third wheel forward had a positive effect on the geometry of the gear and made the aircraft much less prone to groundlooping. The level of skill required dropped significantly and safety advanced. That said, we still have way too many off-runway excursions as we’re crashing has not changed since when The Bruce some pilots still have difficulty with directional AOPA Pilot first rolled off the presses in 1958. Landsberg was control or are unable to judge the flare correctly. Human nature doesn’t change much and accinamed executive Aircraft that require a high level of skill and dents in most areas of life follow certain patterns. director of ASF considerable training experience have more In the home, stairways, carpets, and ladders in 1992. mishaps, thus the genius of moving the tailwheel should cause some trepidation, as they always have. In cars, failure to yield right of way, speeding and fol- to the front. The FAA formally changed pilot requirements lowing too closely remain popular accident triggers—not for tailwheel aircraft in a FAR 61.31 in 1991 when it required much change here despite technical improvements in the those who had not yet obtained tailwheel experience to revehicles. The nature of mishaps doesn’t change unless the ceive special training. It added an endorsement and speciunderlying technology causes a fundamental shift. And fied currency in tailwheel aircraft to carry passengers, a nod there are only so many ways to crash airplanes; most involve to the more difficult nature of tailwheel ground operations. While we’re on the topic of landings, the FAA noted that in ground contact in other than landing configuration. There are some nuances but, we, as a group, aren’t too original. 1958 there were 868 cases where the landing gear collapsed or was inadvertently retracted. Out of that group there were There are also well known solutions to all these problems. Data for this comparison came from the FAA General Avi- 30 fatal accidents. That’s just more than 3.5 percent. In 2006, ation Accidents database—1958 and the AOPA Air Safety there were 392 landing accidents from “all causes” but only Foundation’s 2007 Joseph T. Nall Report. It’s difficult to pre- eight involved fatalities or, put another way, about a 60-percisely equate the FAA’s 1958 accident categories to today’s cent drop in fatal landing accidents compared to the early NTSB description, so consider this commentary as a general years. That could be because of better design, better emercomparison. Starting with total accidents, we’re doing much gency and rescue services, or something else. Accidents attributed to powerplant failures in GA have better in 2006, the latest year available, with 1,319 accidents compared to 4,135 in 1958. That’s a drop of more than two dropped significantly (410 in 1958) even though the basic thirds. There’s no attempt to identify the accident rate by es- design of our engines has changed little. With a fundamental timating flight hours in the early years, but it’s a reasonable shift in engine technology, the current number of 99 acciguess that we flew much less than today since there were dents because of engine and propeller failure could drop fewer GA aircraft. Fatal accidents numbered 273 in 2006 lower. Airframe and components were identified as causal in compared to 328 in 1958, roughly a 17-percent decline. (Pre- 294 accidents in 1958 compared to 124 in 2006. There are a couple of subtle messages in all these statistics. vious comment regarding rate applies but the fatality numFirst, it is most likely that we as pilots will be the source of a bers have fallen much more slowly.) Despite significant technical improvements in aircraft, mishap. Secondly, the hardware is about four times as relithe nature of dangerous flight hasn’t changed if one is prone able as humans and, although the machines do a very good to risk taking. “Pilot struck or flew into an obstacle” (128 in job, they still have to be maintained. As the fleet ages this be1958) is essentially the same problem in 2006 with 94 ma- comes more critical. By the way, humans always fare worse neuvering mishaps. “Failure to maintain airspeed” still has than hardware as the source of failure because you can re-enthe same consequences as it did back then. Some improve- gineer the failing part but you can’t re-engineer the human— ments in aerodynamics have made stalls more docile, but in in most cases. Education, while highly beneficial in certain the hands of an inattentive, ignorant, or overaggressive pilot circumstances, will always take second place to technology. Weather claimed a lot of pilots in 1958. There were 109 fatal the outcome is as it’s always been. Impromptu aerobatics in accidents, or better than two per week. The FAA’s document non-aerobatic aircraft has always been a bad idea. One area where there has been marked improvement is in does not specify exactly what happened, but I’ll speculate that landings. Ground loops and noseovers have largely been VFR into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) was the AOPA PILOT • 62 • MARCH 2008

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of AOPA Pilot Magazine - March 2008