AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 22

FLYING LIFE

Think like a test pilot

BY NATALIE BINGHAM HOOVER

Tips for flying damaged aircraft

NATALIE BINGHAM
HOOVER holds an
airline transport
pilot certificate as
well as all instructor
certificates for
airplanes.

22 | AOPA PILOT October 2020

DO YOU REMEMBER THOSE BOOKS from childhood that
tell you the first half of the story, then you get to put
yourself in the main character's shoes and choose from
one of many possible endings? I thought that would be
a fun game for us pilots to play with a recent scenario
that happened at our flight school:
An instructor and his commercial student were circling a barn in a Cessna 172, practicing ground reference
maneuvers at 1,000 feet agl, when they saw a brief flash
of dark, feathered wings followed by a loud bang and
a sharp yawing and rolling moment to the left. From
the cockpit, they could see a large three- to four-foot
dent in the leading edge of the left wing, but they were
uncertain of the extent of the damage. There was no
visibly leaking fuel, but a significant amount of right
rudder and aileron pressure was needed to keep the
wings level. They were approximately 10 miles away
from their home airport of Olive Branch, Mississippi
(OLV), a 6,000-foot-long paved runway. However, they
could see a small grass strip in gliding distance.
If you were flying that airplane, how would you
write the ending to this particular story of the kamikaze buzzard?
The instructor and his student had to determine the
best course of action for flying a brand-new airplane,
one with strange handling characteristics and a possible fuel leak. Because most of us have never been to test
pilot school, I thought it would be helpful to talk to someone who has. For today, our guide will be Jeffrey Nuccio,
known as "Nooch" to his friends. Nooch test flew fighter
jets for the U.S. Air Force, which included the type of flying most of us can only dream about-deep stall and spin
testing at 30,000 feet, high-speed flutter testing, weaponseparation testing, and more. While it all sounds highly
dangerous, Nooch says the Air Force takes the safety of
its test pilots and test programs seriously.
One safety measure is to be followed by a safety chase
airplane, whose job is to talk to the test pilots via radio
and let them know when they hit important altitudes, or
if there's a traffic or airspace issue. Or if something goes
wrong during a weapon release, the chase plane can come
in close and help determine the extent to which you may
have damaged your own aircraft.
The military also teaches pilots a controllability
check, which is not something I've seen advocated in
general aviation, perhaps because we don't have an ejection seat if something goes wrong. The military check

would be used in cases where control surfaces may be
compromised--i.e., a bird strike or a buildup of ice, or
you were shot by an enemy and concerned about aircraft
damage. To do the control check, climb to a safe altitude,
and simulate a landing by extending wing flaps and gear
and slowing to the approach speed or the minimum controllable airspeed (MCA), whichever is higher. That way,
you find out at altitude if there's a problem with gear or
flaps or if stall speed is higher than expected. When coming down to land, choose a runway that's long enough for
an approach speed at least 10 knots greater than MCA
or your landing without flaps or hydraulic brakes, whatever it may be. At Edwards Air Force Base, you can pick
between the 12,000-foot or the 15,000-foot runway.
While it may feel like missiles and weapon separation
testing is a world far removed from what we do in general
aviation, Nooch says a bird strike is simply "peacetime
battle damage." So how can we take what we've learned
and apply it to the damaged Cessna scenario?
While that instructor and his student didn't have
a chase plane, they did have each other. So, one pilot
could have focused on flying, while the other handled
everything else, including radios, the checklist, traffic
avoidance, and watching out for signs of further wing
damage. A main concern would be increased stall speed;
so, in lieu of a controllability check, the pilot could have
simply kept his speed high and avoided configuration
changes, landing with no flaps in case one was damaged. Because of the increased landing speed, it would
probably have been best to continue back to the longer
paved runway instead of landing on the short grass strip.
That's exactly what they did, by the way. Even
without Nooch's advice, they used some smart, practical thinking to get themselves and their aircraft home
safely. I did that student's commercial checkride a week
later (in another airplane, of course), and he passed with
flying colors. If we fly long enough, at some point, we all
will have the experience of being test pilots. Hopefully
you won't be dealing with antiaircraft fire, but you may
find yourself having to land with some aircraft damage
or ice accumulation or in a gusty crosswind that exceeds
the maximum demonstrated crosswind component. In
any case, there's no reason to panic. Think like a test
pilot, and do everything you can to increase your margin of safety. Remember, in most cases, we get to choose
our own ending.
AOPA
myaviation101.com


http://www.myaviation101.com

AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020

Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Intro
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Cover1
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Cover2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 3
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Cover3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Cover4
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